Print is Back, Baby!

The numbers are in and the main media outlets agree with us: print is back, baby!

Even as e-readers surged in popularity over the past decade, they never dominated the media market and in fact e-book sales have actually fallen lately. A recent New York Times article, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far from Dead,” points out that “while analysts once predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015, digital sales have instead slowed sharply.”

In short, even as pundits were busily crowing about the demise of print media, it has remained very much alive and kicking.

The rise in pricing for some e-books accounts for some, but not all, of the downward trend in e-books. Another noteworthy factor—and one that applies to digital media across the board, not just to e-books—is that many people just like paper better. In fact, research indicates that at least one demographic group that might be expected to skew toward digital media, “young readers who are digital natives,” actually “still prefer reading on paper.

Why?

I’ve covered this territory here before, explaining how print communications are more memorable than digital ones, not least because of the ability of words on paper to connect with and engage readers more than blips on a screen.

But don’t just take my word for it (or put all of your faith in what scholars have said on the subject). Think about your own relationship with print. Even if you are a diehard e-book reader, I bet you still have some paper media around that means something to you.

Your marriage certificate, a birthday card your kid made for you, the handwritten notes your dad packed in your school lunches during your childhood, ticket stubs from a concert by your favorite band, newspaper clippings about when your team won the championship game—those are the kinds of things you keep and treasure. But how often do you dig through your e-mail to find the link to the online e-card someone sent you a couple of years ago? When is the last time you found a digital communication to be deeply meaningful to you?

Think of a particular medium as a vessel for a message. It’s the container that communicates something from the author to the reader. And as Craig Mod points out:

Containers matter. They shape stories and the experience of stories. Choose the right binding, cloth, trim size, texture of paper, margins, and ink, and you will strengthen the bond between reader and text. Choose badly and the object becomes a wedge between reader and text.

Digital media has been amazingly effective at reaching large numbers of people quickly, easily, and inexpensively. But what good is that reach if it has no lasting effect and endures only briefly? Or if it never meets its target at all but rather gets drowned out in an electronic cacophony of countless other messages competing for attention?

If you’re taking the time to craft a message, then make the effort to communicate it effectively. Before you send your words out into the world, be sure to choose the best container for them.