James Meredith 20 February 2017

It’s World Book Day in a couple of weeks (2 March) – the 20th year of this worldwide celebration of books and reading. I’ve never done anything to mark the day and don’t plan on breaking tradition this year, but it has got me feeling a little nostalgic.

For me, the smell and feel of a new book is tough to beat. But the day of the book is dead right? Hasn’t kindle taken over now? Well recent figures have in fact revealed a welcome revival for the printed word.

According to the latest data available from the Publishers Association, physical book sales in the UK increased by 1% H1 2016, while digital book sales fell by 7%. Meanwhile, Waterstones reported a 4%+ surge in sales in its recently published annual results, the first time the company has reported any pre-tax profit since 2009.

Across the Pond it’s a similar story, according to data specialist Nielsen Bookscan. Sales of print books rose by over 3% in 2016, while sales from e-books fell by nearly 8%. At the recent Digital Book World conference in New York, it was announced that hardcover book sales had overtaken e-book numbers for the first time since 2012.

But kindles are not going down without a fight. Entries have just opened for a new £20,000 literary prize launched by Amazon. The Kindle Storyteller award is open to authors writing (in English) across any genre for books launched on Kindle Direct Publishing between now and 19 May 2017.

In the world of PR, the ‘battle’ between print and digital is similarly fierce. The latest ABC figures revealed that seven UK national newspapers are losing sales at a rate of more than 10% year on year. It’s been left to The Observer to fly the print flag as the only national to increase year on year sales without the aid of bulks or price cutting.

However, a recent resurgence in print magazines suggests that the decline of print journalism is far from being an inevitability. Clearly driven by the political ‘earthquakes’ of Brexit and Trump, current affairs magazines have experienced a soar in sales. Private Eye announced this month that it had hit the biggest ever print circulation in its 55-year history, while The Week, New Statesman, The Spectator and The Economist all also reported growth.

There are many studies out there suggesting that reading a physical book, newspaper or magazine offers a very different experience to viewing something digitally. The argument being that the former resides with you much more.

In my view, it’s really all about escapism. Holding, smelling and reading a book – old or new – and physically turning the page makes everything in black and white seem so much more real. Clearly there’s a place and a growing need for digital content, but I’m hopeful that it remains in addition to rather than instead of the printed word.