“Young people don’t print.” “All millennials care about is screens.” “There’s no future.” We heard those comments and more while at the recent PMA/DIMA 2015 conferences in Las Vegas. You know what else we heard? “Photo card sales were exploding.” “Best holiday printing season in years.” “I was still making gifts late into Christmas Eve.”
What’s the difference? In some cases, the culprit was local economics. In others, sales were impacted flawed marketing plans or execution. Yet, the one thing we heard that positively affected holiday sales was attitude; those retailers who embrace change and the new direction of the market are seeing rewards.
One merely has to look at adjacent industries to get hopeful insight. For example, the printed book industry has been under siege by digital technology almost as long as photography. Digital audiobooks, ebooks and Amazon.com led a digital transition that has resulted in the collapse of category leaders like Borders Books and a downsizing of Barnes & Noble. Just like photography – where consumers are shooting and sharing more and more photos than ever – book reading is also on the rise. But, like photography, readers are turning to digital sources, not necessarily physical ones. So, is it the end of the printed book?
Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding “no.” According to Publisher’s Weekly, unit sales of printed books were up 2 percent in 2014, citing figures from Nielsen BookScan. “Unit sales of print books sold through outlets that report to Nielsen BookScan rose 2.4% in 2014, with total units topping 635 million. The gain was driven by a 3.4% increase in unit sales through the retail and club channel relative to 2013, which offset a 1.8% decline in sales through the mass merchandiser channel and others during the same period. Units through retailers and clubs, which include Amazon and all types of bookstores, rose to just under 519 million; in 2013, print units through the channel fell 2.5 percent compared to the previous year.” (BookScan estimates it captures approximately 80 percent of U.S. print-unit sales.)
Publishers Weekly notes print books are “selling better than they have since sales of e-books exploded in 2010 and Borders closed its doors in 2011. Total print-unit sales bottomed out in 2012, falling to 590 million, but in the two years since then, units have risen 7.6%.”
What brought about this change? While adult titles were down slightly, juvenile fiction and nonfiction titles boasted double digit gains. That’s right: Young readers want a “real” book, despite the fact those titles are available on tablets and on ereaders. (One of the big winners in the juvenile segment were books about Minecraft, a video game!)
Unit Sales of Print Books by Category
(Source: Nielsen Bookscan)
Another interesting data point: Comparatively expensive hardcover and trade paperback volume were up, compared to a 10-percent drop in mass-market paperbacks. Quality matters! Does this necessarily mean consumers will go back to making 4-by-6 prints by the boatload? No, of course not. The lesson here is young people and millennials will buy physical products they enjoy and can relate to. If your sales were down in 2014, consider your product mix and your marketing approach. Are you fresh, lively, creative and fun? Do you encourage exploration and personalization? If not, then may be you are missing out on opportunities for growing your photo printing and merchandise business.