Young readers prefer printed books

A new book called Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World cites surveys that say that young readers increasingly prefer to read books from paper, not screens.

More than that, though, they find ebooks and printed books complementary. Printed books are good for protracted reading and comprehension. Ebooks are good for subsequent reference and convenient access. I started arguing this in 2008, and it certainly reflects my own experience. The future composts the past. The advent of films made it possible for performances that couldn't work onstage to be born and it moved all the plays that were uncomfortable fits onstage to the screen. What it left behind were plays that were more like plays — and a theater industry that's still going strong, even if it's dwarfed by the screen.

By the same token, books are becoming more booklike. Books that work best as ebooks — for example, big reference books; but also short works that are too slight to rest comfortably on their own between covers — are moving to ebook-land. Things that are produced as printed books have passed a test in which someone has asked, "Is there an important reason for this to exist in print, instead of exclusively onscreen?"

The Washington Post report on the book is interesting, if problematic for its use of the loathsome phrase "digital native".

The preference for print over digital can be found at independent bookstores such as the Curious Iguana in downtown Frederick, Md., where owner Marlene England said millennials regularly tell her they prefer print because it's "easier to follow stories." Pew studies show the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers.

It can be seen in the struggle of college textbook makers to shift their businesses to more profitable e-versions. Don Kilburn, North American president for Pearson, the largest publisher in the world and the dominant player in education, said the move to digital "doesn't look like a revolution right now. It looks like an evolution, and it's lumpy at best."

And it can be seen most prominently on college campuses, where students still lug backpacks stuffed with books, even as they increasingly take notes (or check Facebook) on laptops during class. At American, Cooper Nordquist, a junior studying political science, is even willing to schlep around Alexis de Tocqueville's 900-plus-page "Democracy in America."

Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right. [Michael S. Rosenwald/Washington Post]

Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World [Naomi S Baron/Oxford University Press]

(via Mitch Wagner)

(Icon: Disorganised bookshelf, hobvias sudoneighm, CC-BY-SA)