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Survey finds physical books still outperform e-books in share of hearts and minds, with carbon neutrality a big consideration

A new survey commissioned by Stora Enso in March 2022 among 2,400 book readers and listeners in the UK, France, Germany and the US showed that people still overwhelmingly prefer physical books (65%) to e-books (21%) or audiobooks (14%). And consumers are willing to pay a premium for carbon neutral books.

 “With the book market strong coming out of the pandemic, our goal with this survey was to gain insights into whether the market would stay that way in a post-pandemic world. And the answer we got was a resounding yes,” says Jonathan Bakewell, VP, Head of Segment Office and Book Papers, Stora Enso.

Pandemic reinforced reading

Clearly the pandemic had a positive effect on reading, with 63% of all respondents and nearly 70% in the UK and US, saying they read more. Of the youngest group polled (16 to 24 years), 64% said they read more, notably 76% of young people in the US and 73% in the UK.

The demand among youth seems partially fuelled by the manga-book craze, driven by Netflix anime series as well as an explosion in top-selling teen romance books. For older readers the book market saw a rise in human potential books and mindfulness as people took pause to look inward.  But mostly people said they read or listened to fiction books, mostly for leisure time alone. And the trend looks set to continue.

Why physical books?

The 65% preferring physical books cite their haptic properties. “In addition to being an object of beauty, the physicality of a book feels companionable,” Bakewell says, “Even the smell of a book can evoke pleasant memories for some readers.”

Books and the paper they are printed on are also circular, and renewable – 42% of readers said they like to keep books when they finish reading them, while 26% loan or donate them. A further 26% sell their books and the remaining 5% recycle or discard them. And while books do emit carbon during production and distribution, they are their own carbon storage unit once they are on the shelves.

Place for all formats

While physical books look set to stay dominant, the survey showed there is a time and place for all book formats, with few respondents saying they stuck to just one. E-books and audio books are convenient, light to carry and can be consumed from many different devices.  

Valuing low carbon

Carbon neutrality was high on the agenda for most, with 61% of all respondents and 70% of youth saying they would pay more (on average 5.7% of the retail price) for carbon neutral books. A majority would also buy from an outlet that provided carbon neutral or carbon offset books.

“These findings among many others are making for good conversation starters with our printer and publishing customers,” Bakewell says, “as we begin to figure out as an industry how to best meet the demand for carbon neutrality.”

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