Returning to work after the festive season, we found ourselves comparing our children's respective Christmas present lists. And we noticed something surprising. Between us, we have three children, ranging from six to 21 years of age. And on all their wishlists, alongside the stuff you'd expect modern kids to desire – clothes, money and electronic gadgets – there were a lot of books. Not e-books, but real, paper books.
And what was noticeable was that all the kids spent lots of time reading these good old-fashioned books over the holidays. Not because they had to – there were plenty of other electronic options – but because they wanted to. One of them even spent New Year's Eve reading a book from the public library, of all things, ignoring her pile of shiny Christmas presents.
Surely not? Aren't books supposed to be dead? Don't kids spend all their time nowadays Snapchatting, watching YouTube and updating Facebook instead? It seems not. On New Year's Day, one of us had the odd experience of being the only one Facebooking while the rest of the family were engrossed in their books.
Well, surely young people don't turn real paper pages anymore? Aren't they all using their Kindles and tablets? No again. Mummy and Granny love their Kindles (large print is helpful), but the young ones seem to love the feel of a real book. Before you conclude we have strange children, look at the stats. According to Nielsen, e-books' share of the market started to plateau about a year ago, while real books bounced back slightly recently. In particular, e-books have lost ground in young adult fiction, the publishing success story of 2014. Girl Online, the debut novel by internet star Zoella, sold more than 78,000 hardbacks in its first week – beating all the Harry Potter and Twilight books.
In fact, far from killing books off, the digital revolution is giving them a new lease of life. Electronic publishing lowers barriers to entry for new authors, but the really successful ones then make the jump to 'real' book publishing – Fifty Shades of Grey anyone? Movies of books in turn sell more books – notice all those teenagers reading The Hunger Games on the bus. And, rather than distracting young people from books, social media encourages them to read: book blogging is popular and teenagers love following their favourite authors on Twitter. A Voxburner survey for The Bookseller recently reported that 49% of readers aged between 16 and 24 had joined a fan group, website or Facebook group related to a book and 40% followed an author on Twitter. Seventy-five per cent said they preferred print books over eBooks.
Whenever radical new technology emerges, we assume it will kill the old stuff. Radio was supposed to kill the gramophone in the 1920s, but 2014 saw a vinyl resurgence. TV was supposed to kill radio in the 1950s, but people still listen to radio an average of two hours a day. The internet was supposed to have killed TV, but people still watch around four hours of TV a day.
Old and new technologies do compete with each other, just as different species do. Sometimes new technology makes the old one extinct, but more often, the two find different niches, or even work in symbiosis. So Twitter and Facebook have enhanced, not replaced, TV – with the big TV reality events thriving in a state of mutual benefit with viewers commenting on social media. And laptops and tablets haven't killed TV advertising, they've made it work harder: we can search product info, watch ads again, check deals, and buy advertised products online.
Trendspotters and futurologists should have learnt by now. Yes, more exciting new tech will come our way, and yes our world changes very fast but old tech can be surprisingly resilient… like books.