Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How the internet is boosting sales of printed books

The findings of this study, published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, show that digital will not lead to the demise of traditional bookstores

Published: Jan 31, 2024 02:54:37 PM IST
Updated: Jan 31, 2024 02:57:56 PM IST

How the internet is boosting sales of printed books The digitization of literature could even boost sales of "paper" books, according to an American study. Image: Shutterstock

In this era dominated by digital media, the idea that physical books could die out is raised from time to time. But American researchers say that such a concern is unfounded. They say that the digitization of the world's literary production is not having a dramatic impact on book sales.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the dematerialization of literature could even increase sales of "paper" books by up to 8%. This phenomenon has a greater impact on lesser-known books  and could even be seen with non-digitized works by writers who have seen some of their literary output digitized.

Abhishek Nagaraj and Imke Reimers, the two academics behind this research, came to this conclusion after analyzing the sales of 37,743 books that were digitized by Google for its Books project between 2005 and 2009. In particular, they compared sales figures two years before and after this period, to see if the American giant's project had had any impact on the publishing market.

In 2004, when Google announced its intention to create a universal library for all, by digitizing millions of books from prestigious American and British libraries, the news was not well received in the book world. In 2005, the American Authors Guild even filed a complaint against Google for "massive copyright infringement" at the expense of individual authors' rights in a federal court in New York. The US court ruled in favor of the world's number one search engine, judging that the project would benefit society as a whole.

Also read: When it comes to boosting reading comprehension, print rules over screens


The findings of researchers Abhishek Nagaraj and Imke Reimers suggest that this gigantic digital library has, in any case, had a positive effect on book sales. They found that around 40% of digitized titles saw their sales increase between 2003-2004 and 2010-2011, compared with less than 20% of non-digitized titles. “We didn’t necessarily expect the positive effect on sales,” she said. “We expected a positive effect on use, because if a book is readily available online, people can find it more easily and naturally they’re going to use it more," outlined Imke Reimers in a press release.

The findings of this study, published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, show that digital will not lead to the demise of traditional bookstores. It's a phenomenon that has already been seen with Bookstagram and, more recently, BookTok, TikTok's literary community. Internet users who take part in this huge book club recommend various books to one another, sparking unexpected literary successes in the process. Proof, if proof were needed, that books are anything but obsolete.