College Students Overwhelmingly Prefer Physical Books Over Digital, Survey Says

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Recent research from Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University, shows that 92% of students still prefer physical books made with paper and ink rather than reading on a laptop, phone, tablet, or e-reader.

Participants for the study included over 420 college students from various countries around the world, including Japan, Germany, Slovakia, and the United States.  The research is expected to be included in Baron’s upcoming book, “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.”

As of 2010, 92% of students in the US, 77% of Japanese students, and 95% of students in Germany still preferred to read books in print over the digital versions, writes Jonathan Zhou for The Epoch Times.

Baron discovered that although 50% of Americans own an e-reader or tablet, with an even higher percentage owning a phone capable of supporting reading materials, in the end, owning is a very separate experience from enjoying.  According to the Association of American Publishers, the sale of e-readers appears to have hit a plateau last year and have stopped increasing.  The most common complaints pertaining to e-readers dealt with eye strain, low battery life, and an impersonal feeling while reading, reports Lulu Change for Digital Trends.

Those who have an e-reader said they made the digital investment because e-books are cheaper than traditional books in print.  Open answer responses on the survey included positive elements like convenience and saving space.

A 2013 survey held similar results.  If e-books were to come at the same cost as the paper version, close to 80% of students in all three countries said they would choose paper.  Numbers were even higher for textbooks, with 94% of German students saying they would choose paper textbooks if the costs were the same.

It does seem as though the popularity of e-readers could be decreasing, as a Scholastic report found that although 60% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 said they would always read the print version of books, that number increased to 65% within two years.

“There really is a physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading,” Baron told the New Republic in a recent interview. “In the Slovakian data, when I asked what do you like most about reading in hard copy, one out of ten talked about the smell of books.”

According to participants in Baron’s study, they enjoy the physical progress and satisfaction that comes with reading material in print.  Baron noted that people tend to like to be able to physically see how far they have read.  Although they can see the percentage completed at the bottom of the screen on e-readers, there is a different feeling involved when one can see how many pages are left.

Other instances involved students discussing a visual memory of where something was on a particular page.

“There are all kinds of reasons students will give — ‘I have a sense of accomplishment when I finish a book and I want to see it on the shelf.’”

Participants who said they did prefer e-readers pointed to the environmental impact that cutting down trees for physical books has.  In all, 21% of respondents to the 2010 survey cited ecological reasons for choosing to read books on an e-reader.