The flagship Borders store was just off State Street near the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. The first time I visited was my freshman year. A good friend wanted to walk the five or six blocks from our dorm to pick up Mitch Albom’s new book, and I was pleased to join. It wasn’t often a friend went out of their way to buy a physical book.
From the moment you stepped inside the store, the first thing you noticed was the smell. Or call it an aroma, because calling it a smell gives it a negative connotation and it was far from unpleasant. Rather, it was comforting. Then you stepped forward and walked the aisles, browsing, content, looking for the next book that will change you life.
This is the bookstore experience that we’ve all come to adore, and it’s the scene we fear we will lose as companies like Borders are forced to close their doors forever. That’s what happened with this store. Less than two years later, the building sat vacant. It was an end of an era — one I hadn’t had nearly enough years to experience.
Physical book sales, clearly, were dying. Let’s call them being replaced. The world was shifting toward digital platforms, after all, and physical books would be no exemption.
But after years of physical book sales decreasing and ebook sales increasing, have we finally struck a balance?
According to CNN, yes. And not only have physical book sales ceased declining, they’ve actually grown. In 2016, hardcover book sales increased more than 4% and paperback more than 7%.
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What’s the result? According to Publishers Weekly, HarperCollins is set to invest in its physical book business. The large publisher is committed to supporting “any efforts to introduce more innovation and creativity into bookselling,” while also stating that it will be supporting the growth of independent bookstores.
For bibliophiles, this comes as refreshing news. Let’s hope the trend continues long into the future.
20 thoughts on “Are physical books making a comeback?”
Call me old fashioned, but there’s just something about a book. To me, reading words on a screen isn’t nearly as real as opening a book. I could go to my kindle and a book, read the same thing, and just reading it from the book is a better experience. I also like having books around. Many have been given to me as a gift, and that experience is lost with an eBook.
Maybe part of it is this simple. In my day job, I do a lot of seriously technical stuff, working with computer programs that will no doubt be obsolete in a few years. In that respect, an eBook is perfect. After all, two or three years down the line, it won’t matter.
But the stories I read and enjoy, those will never be out of date. I want them around forever.
Exactly. There is a timeless aspect to a physical book that should absolutely be recognized and appreciated.
I’m old fashioned, too. But I’ve learned that sometimes the convenience of an eBook is worth the investment. I read both and probably always will. I still fall under the spell of the library atmosphere or a book store of any size, but when I’m traveling, I’d rather not lug all those books along.
Certainly a fair point! I’ve read ebooks as well, and I suppose for a long trip they would make a lot of sense. I just don’t want to see a complete replacement of physical books.
This is a difficult one! Without eBooks, I wouldn’t be a published author and I wouldn’t be able to afford as many books as I now own. Still…I enjoy the scent and feel of a “real” book if I have a choice. Most of my paper books are long gone, as I got tired of lugging them from move to move, but I still have a few I will always keep. I suspect eBooks will eventually replace paper altogether, but I hope I’m long dead before it happens. Thanks for the post Ed!
You brought up some good points here, and I completely agree. I hope I’m long gone before that happens as well!