The Hybrid Reader–and What That Means for Books

As a heartwarming follow up to my last post on the digital future of publishing, I’d like to discuss the future of our beloved books. As an impassioned reader and a self-admitted traditionalist, I will cleave to print books my whole life through. As a publishing professional, I believe digital advances are wonderful and creating an entirely new experience for readers. Yet, on a personal level as a reader, I believe that there is an innate magical quality about the experience of reading a print book that cannot be recreated. If you’ve read my blog before, I’m sure you’re thinking that this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this. However, recent research from a post-holiday Pew survey about the reading habits of American adults put a huge smile on my face and prompted me to address this topic again.

As we move into 2014, findings from a Pew survey indicate that “most people who read e-books also read print books, and that just 4% of readers are e-book only.” Plus, “overall, about half (52%) of readers only read a print book,” and “87% of e-book readers also read a print book in the past 12 months.” These statistics are exceptionally encouraging for the publishing industry, as it indicates that readers still value the experience of reading a printed book and that they are reading across mediums. The boundaries of the publishing world and the concept of the book are constantly being tested, reshaped, and molded. Yet, despite all the changes readers continue to reach for print books.

What is emerging from the constant developments in the publishing world is a new kind of reader–a hybrid reader. They are not setting books aside, but rather are embracing a new reading experience across mediums: print books, Kindles, iPads, Nooks, laptops, smart phones, etc. We are seeing the evolution of readers in tandem with the evolution of the publishing landscape. Though, I would venture to say that readers are definitely moving at a slower pace than the publishing industry in their adoption of digital reading devices. The constant looming threat that there will one day be no books, libraries, or bookstores is, to my mind, unthinkable. And, thankfully the results of this Pew survey confirm that.

The survey also indicated that the reading pulse of Americans is thriving. Overall, “76% of adults surveyed read a book in some format over the previous 12 months,” and the “average number of books read or listened to [in 2013] was 12.”   These statistics both shocked and pleased me. The introduction of e-reading devices has undoubtably impacted the number and diversity of readers. And, as an avid reader and an ardent lover of words, ultimately, I want as many people as possible to find a reading experience that excites and entrances them in the same way as reading a print book does for me.

The takeaway for book lovers is that the digital future of publishing does not mean the death of the the book. In fact, the harmonious relationship between books and digital reading devices may be just what the world of literature needed to keep generations of new readers engaged as we move into an ever-changing and technologically advanced world.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Hybrid Reader–and What That Means for Books

  1. I’m a hybrid reader, but I wouldn’t take too much comfort from the our existence. In the past year, I probably read 20 books on my iPad, and 2 in physical form. In both cases, the books had been given to me and weren’t available in ebook.

    While I do like the idea of physical books, and like them on my shelf, that’s a luxury that I’ve chosen to forego, much preferring the convenience and experience of reading on an e-reader. As supply of ebooks increases, and the technology evolves to let us lend or give ebooks more easily, I expect to the number of physical books I read to fall even further, and doubt I’m much of an exception.

    I’d be very happy to be proven wrong, just not enough of a physical book lover to buy books that I don’t want to read and don’t have space for.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate your thoughtful comment and perspective as a hybrid reader. I think it’s great that you’ve found a medium that you enjoy reading on, even if that is not printed books. I know that there are many readers out there that might not have found reading as engaging had they not been given options other than physical books. I do believe, however, that there are enough of us book lovers out there to keep them both a present and thriving choice of medium for readers.

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