tangible media girl smelling print book

Beyond Ebooks: Understanding the Appeal of Tangible Media in 2024

Today, let’s talk about the crossroads for indie authors as we enter a post-pandemic landscape where tangible media, personal connections, and artisan products are in demand.

Before the pandemic, consumers were all in on digital content: ebooks, streaming services, online games, digital movies, and audiobooks.

The pandemic caused a shift in consumer attitudes, especially for folks born since 1980 (Millennials, Generation Z, and Gen Alpha.) We wanted to hold onto what we had, be it family and friends, pets, jobs, hobbies, homes, or toilet paper. Tangible goods became more precious as we experienced hiccups in the supply chain.

Despite the explosion of AI on the scene, or perhaps because of it, the desire for authentic, handcrafted art and literature is growing. See associated post: Ethics of ChatGPT

A Swiftie Sighting

One of my daughters is a Swiftie; she’s a thirty-something professional, and her favorite, recent purchase is a turntable to play her new vinyl albums. What?

record player
Photo by Przemyslaw Marczynski on Unsplash

Secretly, I am amazed by the rebirth of vinyl records because it makes me feel as though I stumbled through a time portal to my childhood. But her enthusiasm for this older tech got me thinking.

Isn’t this the digital age?

Maybe the rebirth of vinyl albums and the surge in print book sales are both signs of the same thing—tangible products are in. Millennials like my daughter are not enthusiastic about collecting digital files.

This is supported by 2023 statistics for book sales. In an article for PublishDrive by Amalia Pop, 2023 Book Sales Statistics by PublishDrive, she states: “Although the ebook sales statistics show this interest in digital titles, the standout performer in this trajectory is the print format, witnessing an impressive 249% growth.”

The same article says that demand for digital content is still strong, of course, but print has enduring appeal.

Tangible Media in the Digital Age

My own kids (who span a couple of generations) are not thrilled by digital books and e-readers. For certain, they prefer print books. They love the feel of the paper beneath their fingers and the smell of ink on the pages.

joanna kosinska B6yDtYs2IgY unsplash
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Though they enjoy streaming, binging, and music on demand, they also love to own the physical manifestation of their favorite movies, shows, or music albums. They adore nostalgia, dark academia, and Bridgerton, and they want to feel a personal connection to the artists behind the content they love.

We wanted to hold onto what we had, be it family and friends, pets, jobs, hobbies, homes, or toilet paper. Tangible goods became more precious as we experienced hiccups in the supply chain.

I’m not a Luddite, just a realist.

Don’t get it twisted; I love my Kindle library. I have books on Kobo too. I enjoy digital assets because I can carry my library with me. And it’s searchable! (Imagine that.) I also believe there will be a prominent place for AI from now on. (Don’t shoot the messenger.) I’m not a Luddite, but I can recognize the impersonal nature of digital products.

As a side question, who really owns the movies and books we buy from Amazon? Thirty years from now, will your kids be debating who gets to keep your copy of Finding Nemo or that ebook you bought that has fallen out of publication? Never mind that an electromagnetic pulse could erase most of the collective knowledge on our planet.

emil karlsson 93DS e6h8t4 unsplash
Photo by Emil Karlsson on Unsplash

Is that too dark? Sorry.

There is a trend to purchase handcrafted items made by artisans, and local is better. I think it’s the next generation’s way of pushing back against unfettered, oppressive capitalism, mass-produced items built by robots, artificial food, and a distressing distance from Nature. Walmart and Amazon are Corporate Evil Incarnate, and they would rather die …

Cue the dawn of the Artisan Age.

Kevin Tumlinson’s recent Substack post (see Resources below) calls the near future “the Artisan Age.” He wrote:

“The business of books is changing, but so is the business of music, film, television, art. There is a deep and expanding trend toward analog, and toward what I am calling ‘the Artisan Age.’ We are looking for tangible things to enjoy. The digital movement isn’t going away, but the analog movement is upon us, once again.”

—Kevin Tumlinson

Folks want personal connection; they want to feel like they know the artists who produce the content they consume.

Man reading print book and drinking coffee.
Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

I see one exception to the tangible trend. Audiobooks are digital, although I still slip up and call them books on tape. Audiobooks are huge because we love the sound of the human voice. We love to listen to stories. AI may be able to replicate voices soon, but perhaps not at the highest level of conveying meaning and emotion.

Tips for indie authors for 2024:

  • If you have only published ebooks, expand to print. There is an audience that wants to hold your print books in their hands.
  • You need to make personal connections with your readers. The best way to stay in touch with your readers is through a newsletter (with Social Media as a distant second).
  • You don’t need to overshare personal information and pictures of your kids in your newsletters. Instead, do what you do best: share stories.
  • Don’t become Walmart or Amazon; don’t sell, sell, sell. Instead, connect and nurture and stay in touch. Your readers will love this approach.
  • The moment you can afford to produce audio books, do it. If you are good at reading your work aloud, then save some money and narrate it yourself. Audio is the preferred way for busy people to “read” books while doing the dishes or driving to work. Listening to someone’s words through a set of earphones is a personal, intimate experience. What better way to connect with your readers?
Buy me a coffee

Revise your tactics as needed.

As self-published authors, getting our ebook files uploaded to Amazon or other stores was and still is one of the cheapest, easiest options for putting our words into the world. But don’t let that limit your reach.

These days, think beyond ebooks. Publishing your ebooks on Amazon is an old tactic. Sure, publish there, but branch out to other mediums and other distribution channels.

Question: What’s the story behind your favorite tangible media item, and why does it hold such significance for you? Please share.


2 thoughts on “Beyond Ebooks: Understanding the Appeal of Tangible Media in 2024”

  1. I have stacks of original paintings and afghans that everyone admires but nobody wants to pay me even $2/hr for. If it serves the same function as mass-produced “made in China,” they only want to pay the same price. Or less, because anything that comes out of a private home must be “used,” and therefore should be had at a discount compared to in-retail-store “new” prices. And my books haven’t even earned back their reference-material costs.

    1. That’s rough. Society as a whole is addicted to cheap clothing and throw-away goods. But I have hope for the next generation who crave authenticity. Books often strike out or simply take years to earn out. And let’s not skip over the difficulty of getting our books’ covers, descriptions, categories, and keywords right. That is not a set-it-and-forget-it task; what works for a while often needs to be tweaked. I hope you find the readers who need your work. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top