Print is Not Dead: The Case for Physical Books

Karl R. LaPan President & CEO, The NIIC

According to the Pew Research Center, “About a quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form.” This is tragic to me. As Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “Leaders are readers.” When my wife and I built our house in 2001, we put a library in it. We wanted our kids to be in an environment that valued reading and learning so we made it an integral part of our home.

I love reading—and I don’t mean listening to audio books. I mean sitting with the tangible book. The look, feel and smell of a book is a multi-sensory experience I’m convinced technology cannot replace or replicate. Technology doesn’t replace the joy I used to feel when I would hang out in Borders or Barnes & Noble discovering and reading a vast selection of books before deciding on which one to purchase.

While my nightstand always has two or three books I am reading simultaneously, I do admit that I digest newspapers and magazines through my iPad. However, these activities don’t reinforce my feeling of anticipation and accomlishment that I get from reading a book (and marking it up) cover to cover but they do satisfy my need for on-demand, real-time information.

I’m not alone in my love of reading, but as you can see from the Pew Research, our country is becoming lazier and distracted by all the noise around us (fake news, dark social media posts, and the plethora of social media activity distracting you). Beyond the mere joy of taking in a book, there’s no shortage of anecdotes that suggest a correlation between success and reading. After all, you can glean a whole career’s worth of knowledge in a book that (most of the time) costs less than a dinner out.

However, the format is not created equally in my mind. I really believe there’s a strong case for print over digital. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Print boosts comprehension and retention.

The data doesn’t lie. Research indicates that screen-based reading tends to lead to more distractions, resulting in lower comprehension and weakened ability to internalize the information. If you’ve ever accidentally clicked on an ad and fell into the rabbit hole of clickbait, then you know what I mean about distractions. On the other hand, interacting with a physical asset can lead to a more productive reading experience.

2. Print is better for your health.

Digital consumption of media does a number on the human body. Light-emitting devices can wreak havoc on our circadian rhythm (fancy words for our biological clock). There’s a reason experts recommend unplugging at least an hour before bedtime. This only perpetuates an unhealthy cycle of sleep deprivation with which many entrepreneurs already grapple. Reading a physical book is a great way to shut out the noise of the world, at least for a few minutes each day.

3. Print provides a richer and fuller experience.

Like I said previously, the tactile nature of a book provides a deeper connection. You feel like you are on an intellectual journey where the finish line is the last page. Books are also badges of honor. What we keep on our bookshelves and coffee tables reflects what we value and reflects on our personalities and interests. A book collection is a great conversation starter and can lend credibility with clients and partners.

I am not advocating for getting rid of digital or audio, it has a part to play in our life, but I am suggesting there is value to reflection, solitude and discernment without the constant challenges of tuning in and out of the ‘noise‘.

So, what are you reading? My three books are: The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse, Built for Growth by Dr. John Danner and HBR series on Emotional Intelligence.


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