Does Format Matter: Ebooks vs Paper Books

A study conducted in the U.S., Slovakia, Japan, and Germany between 2010 and 2013 found that the majority of university students surveyed preferred paper books to ebooks. The initial survey in 2010 found that 92 percent of students preferred paper books. In a follow up survey in 2013, 80 percent of respondents preferred paper books.

Given that this was a study on a relatively new technology, as well as the rapid pace of technological change in the early years of the 21st century, it is very possible that the percentage of students preferring paper books has declined even further in the past 3 years. The Washington Post reported this study in February, 2016 and I am unaware if there is more recent data. Three years is longer than the life cycle of a consumer electronics and I would wager that more students have adopted ebooks in the recent years.

From my own experience as a student both in 2010 and again in 2016, I can anecdotally report that I had only just begun to use digital books in 2010. I got my first Kindle that year and I read a lot for pleasure on it but I only used it once or twice to read a book for school. Fast forward to 2016 and I am reading nearly all of my books for school on an e-reader. I buy and loan ebooks from the library and for school reading I actually prefer ebooks.

The researchers noted that for some who preferred paper books to ebooks it was the “physical, tactile, [and] kinesthetic component” of reading that kept them attached to paper books. While I agree that there is not the same sense of weight and touch with an e-reader, it hasn’t stopped me from devouring now even more books in digital rather than analog format. I still love finding great books at used bookstores but the final feature of ebooks that has prompted my switch is the ability to listen to any book I own. The text-to-speech feature means that when I am too tired to hold the book and read, I can turn on the speaker and do the dishes while a robotic voice reads to me about Michel Foucault. This has been priceless for me when I have 500 pages to get through each week.

I highly recommend this feature. Not only does it make texts more accessible to those with limited vision (which is a great thing about ebooks) but it is also worth checking out for different learning styles. There is a debate about whether listening is the same as reading for comprehension, retention and so forth but individuals learn differently and it works for me.

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