Will paper books and print newspapers survive another decade?

Meghan Williams

I read a lot. Newspapers, books, magazines, ebooks, random articles online, I’ll read basically anything I can get my eyes on. Whilst I enjoy all the reading, nothing beats holding a physical copy of literature in my hands. I love the glossy feel of a magazine beneath my fingers, the smell of opening a new book for the first time, and the look of holding a newspaper.
I’m sure everyone has heard the words “Print is dying” at some point in the last few years, but what exactly does this phrase mean? Well in truth, it means a few things. Some people use it to refer to lower numbers of people consuming print media. Others might say the phrase when talking about the decline of newspaper establishments. Either way, the amount of handheld newspapers is dropping tremendously. Researchers at the University of North Carolina say more than 2,100 local newspapers have closed since 2004. We’ve even seen this happening in Rolla, with the recent closure of the Rolla Daily News, a newspaper that had been around since 1942.
Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes. Even I, someone who is more than a little biased when it comes to newspapers (I do work for one), can admit that reading a newspaper is not convenient. I find them hard to navigate and awkward to hold. Furthermore, finding specific articles online is much easier. Anything I could possibly need is just a few clicks away. Sure, the movie scene where the detective is looking through the storage room full of newspapers for a clue and right before they give up searching they just happen to stumble upon a very important piece of evidence that ultimately helps them crack the entire case they’re working on is very cool, but ultimately not all that realistic and definitely not the easiest way to find whatever life saving information they’re looking for. So, while I’m not entirely happy about it, I can understand the decline of print journalism.
Weirdly, opposite of the newspaper industry, book sales have been up in recent years. Barnes and Noble has seen an increase in both digital and paper sales since the pandemic started. And even more shocking, the readers are young.
“I don’t make money from old people, I make money from young people,” said James Daunt, the CEO of Barnes & Noble, in a conversation with Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly.
Daunt credits this unexpected rise in reading interest to TikTok. Specifically what TikTok users are calling #BookTok. #Booktok is a community of young readers who post videos of book reviews, recommendations, and more. I frequently have Booktok videos show up on my For You page and can confirm that these content creators have gotten me back into reading. My feed is even so specific that I almost always get book recommendations that I actually enjoy. (It’s a little scary how accurate it is now that I’m thinking about it.)
Now, maybe I could make the same argument about ebooks as I did online articles, but I actually really hate ebooks. I will admit that I read ebooks from time to time, but only when I need whatever book I’m reading immediately and don’t have time to order it and wait for it to ship (especially in this economy). I also don’t think ebooks are really that much more convenient than paper books. I find them much harder to stay tuned into when TikTok, Netflix, and Wordle are only a swipe away. I also enjoy reading books before bed. I find that putting my phone or other electronics away for a while before going to bed makes a huge impact on how long it takes me to fall asleep. Reading a book on my phone, or other electronic device, negates the benefits of this. And the weirdest reason of all for why I like reading paper books: because people on TikTok always (and I mean ALWAYS) have paper copies of whatever they’re reading. And in all the backgrounds of #BookTok videos also have this big, beautiful, full bookshelves. How am I to obtain this if I don’t buy paperback books?
So, maybe there is hope for print journalism after all. If the media has made such a large impact on paper book sales, then maybe it can do the same for print newspapers. Maybe I just need to start a #Newspapertalk and people will start reading newspapers again. Probably not though, but a girl can dream.