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Students overwhelmingly prefer paper books to ebooks, study shows

Ebooks may be convenient, but students still prefer to have physical copies. (Thinkstock)
Ebooks may be convenient, but students still prefer to have physical copies. (Thinkstock)

We’ve all heard the doom and gloom of recent years about the fate of paper books: ebooks saw a meteoric rise when they hit the market in a big way in 2008, and were predicted to have a meteoric rise.

When bookseller Borders declared bankruptcy in 2011, people in the industry and bibliophiles alike feared it was the beginning of the end for beloved paperbacks and leather-bound hardcovers.

But fear not, paper book-lovers, there is hope for the future.

A recent study performed by Naomi Baron at American University found that a whopping 92 per cent of students preferred a paper tome to reading a digital book on an e-reader, laptop, phone or tablet, New Republic reports.

After surveying over 300 university students ages 18-26 from Japan, Germany, Slovakia and the U.S., Baron found that the distractions presented by digital devices and the discomfort of eye strain and headaches were major deterrents for students to pick up digital books. They also cited certain experiences that the ebook just doesn’t replicate.

“When I asked what they don’t like about reading on a screen — they like to know how far they’ve gone in a book,” Baron told New Republic. “You can read at the bottom of the screen what per cent you’ve finished, but it’s a totally different feel to know you’ve read an inch worth and you have another inch and a half to go.”

“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. There really is a physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading.”

ALSO READ: How to borrow ebooks from the local library on all your devices

Baron, whose findings will be part of her upcoming book "Worlds Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World," also discovered having a physical book changed the reading habits of her subjects.

"My research shows people are more likely to re-read if they have a book in hard copy," Baron said. "You might see the title on your shelf and think, 'I hadn’t thought about that scene in a long time.' There are certain connections we make that go beyond decoding words."

While it may be surprising to see that a generation who has grown up with computers has a certain nostalgia for real books, the results are in line with some surprising sales data that emerged late 2015. A New York Times story reported that ebook sales fell 10 per cent in the first five months of 2015, and had not seen a growth in marketshare of books sold when compared to a couple of years prior.

Major publishers like Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins both reported lower ebook sales in the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2015 — only 20 per cent of revenue was generated by ebook sales, down 23 per cent from where they were a year ago, Publishers Weekly reported.

For those eight per cent of students who do prefer digital books, there’s no need to worry: ebooks are here to stay, especially with boosts like U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to distribute 10,000 ebooks to low-income children. But it seems that, for now, paper books will still have a place in hands, homes and libraries across the world.

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