Analysts Claim Teens Still Prefer Print Books

In a flawed bit of analysis, Nielsen researchers are claiming that e-book adoption is slow among teens, an interesting finding if it were actually true.

“While 20% of teens [are] purchasing e-books, 25% of 30–44 year olds and 23% of 18–29 year olds buy digital copies,” said the report.

Despite teens’ tech-savvy reputation, this group continues to lag behind adults when it comes to reading e-books, even with the young adult genre’s digital growth relative to the total e-book market. While 20% of teens purchasing e-books, 25% of 30-44 year olds and 23% of 18-29 year olds buy digital copies. While younger readers are open to e-books as a format, teens continue to express a preference for print that may seem to be at odds with their perceived digital know-how.Several factors may play a role in teens’ tendency toward printed publications. Parents’ preference for print could have an effect or teens’ lack of credit cards for online purchases. But another explanation may be teens’ penchant for borrowing and sharing books rather than purchasing them, which is easier to do in print. Over half of teens are still looking for books on library or bookstore shelves. And in-store browsing is about level with browsing online for this group.

Unfortunately the breakdown stops there. Obviously teens don’t have the cash to purchase paper books let alone the credit cards to buy ebooks. Therefore they are dependent on their parents to purchase titles or the library where they can borrow with abandon.

Sadly, the Nielsen data offers no breakdown of this behavior nor does it mention sites like Wattpad where the definition of “book” has become fluid. Both of these pieces of data are integral to understanding the new digital market, as are services like Kindle Unlimited which offer books that are so far out of the mainstream as to be in another body of water entirely.

If there is a single defining trait in the long fall of print, it’s that the data is consistently inconsistent. There are plenty of hold-outs in the print camp who will not read e-books in their lifetimes and there are plenty of people who have jettisoned the concept of print books entirely. Then there is a massive bell curve of users — our family included — that owns both e-books and print books in almost equal measure. These users will slowly skew towards digital over the next decade, and I would expect a full print collapse by 2020 if not sooner.

As one commenter on The Digital Reader noted, used print books are amazingly cheap – even cheaper than e-books, given the resources required – but as the stock of long tail print titles is ground into dust, it will be harder and harder to find 1 cent copies (plus shipping) of Catcher In The Rye and other teen classics. In the end, digital will win out, but not for a while.