Digital fatigue swings readers in favour of paper publishers

By Vaughan Patterson, product marketing operations manager for Production Print at Ricoh SA
Savvy publishers increasingly opt for inkjet systems because they’re looking to the broader costs of the publishing supply chain as opposed to the per unit cost.
Inkjet offers many advantages over litho systems in the context of the total supply chain:
* Extremely short turnaround;
* Reduce stock holding; and
* Minimise the cost to warehouse and ultimately discount and eventually pulp unsold stock.
Mono inkjet presses began this shift but colour presses are now upping the ante.
Digitalisation of industries generally, including book publishing, forced this change. The speed at which consumers can browse, buy, download, and begin reading books from online sources in a greater variety of e-readers today than ever before caused the dramatic shift in reading patterns and how the industry supplies readers.
Readers initially switched many of their titles from physical to digital, there was a general uptick in the number of titles sold worldwide, before there was a second general shift back from digital titles to paper.
The New York Times (NYT) reported in 2015 that between 2008 and 2010 e-book sales grew 1260% while paper book sales plummeted and bookstores began shutting up shop. It continued to report that in the first five months of 2015 e-book sales dropped 10% while in 2014 digital book sales accounted for roughly 20% of the market – same as a few years prior.
Of the books Penguin Random House sells in the US, 70% are paper. Interestingly the company began offering independent bookstores two-day delivery for the November to January period, a peak book buying period, back in 2011. The strategy apparently reduced returns by 10% for them. We see the same kind of numbers here in South Africa.
In February 2016 it emerged from American University’s linguistics professor, Naomi Baron, survey called Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World that university students prefer paper to digital. She had surveyed more than 420 students from four countries between 2010 and 2013.
Codex Group wanted to know why as shown in the story by Jim Milliott on Publishers Weekly (publishersweekly.com). They discovered digital fatigue. Their survey found that 37% of people aged 18 to 24, 32% aged 25 to 34, 27% aged 35 to 44, 24% aged 45 to 54, 21% aged 55 to 64, and 15% aged 65 and older actually wanted to read less in digital format. I was surprised to find the biggest percentages in the younger age categories. According to Codex digital just can’t replicate the paper experience but anyone in the print industry has known that for some time now. But that didn’t explain the younger generations’ desire for less digital, more paper.
That’s why I also found it interesting then that they came across digital fatigue. They found that people who buy books are already spending five hours a day looking at screens so by the time they get to reading they’ve had enough. They broke down the numbers some more to look at the types of screens and e-reading patterns. Essentially people with phones buy and read fewer e-books for shorter periods, obviously because phone screens are smaller and therefore not great for reading. Tablets fare better obviously with more screen realty, and dedicated e-readers the best with their optimised screens and, importantly, e-paper that doesn’t project light at your eyes. But e-reader penetration has stagnated.
However, while the sale of e-books may have stagnated and even slipped and there’s been a resurgence in paper titles, the fact remains that e-books have made an indelible impact on the publishing industry. The printers who feed publishers their raw material have had to improve their game, which brought about the growing shift to inkjet to simply meet the speed and convenience of digital and retain some fiscal relevancy of paper in a world increasingly digitally fatigued.

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Ricoh is a global technology company specialising in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services. Headquartered in Tokyo, Ricoh Group operates in about 200 countries and regions. In the financial year ending March 2014, Ricoh Group had worldwide sales of 2,236 billion yen (approximately 21.7 billion USD).

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