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Sorry, Ebooks. These 9 Studies Show Why Print Is Better

15 April 2017

From The Huffington Post:

Don’t lament the lost days of cutting your fingers on pristine new novels or catching a whiff of that magical, transportive old book smell just yet! A slew of recent studies shows that print books are still popular, even among millennials. What’s more: further research suggests that this trend may save demonstrably successful learning habits from certain death. Take comfort in these 9 studies that show that print books have a promising future:

Younger people are more likely to believe that there’s useful information that’s only available offline.
While 62 percent of citizens under 30 subscribe to this belief, only 53 percent of those 30 and older agree. These findings are from a promising study released last year by Pew Research, which also found that millennials are more likely to visit their local library.

. . . .

Students opt for physical copies of humanities books, even when digital versions are available for free.
While students prefer reading digital texts for science and math classes, they like to study the humanities in print. A study conducted by the University of Washington in 2013, and quoted in The Washington Post, shows that 25 percent of humanities students bought physical versions of free ebooks.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Ron for the tip.

And because studies have shown that the audience remembers more from a live stage play than from a television show or movie, the latter two media formats have no future.


29 Comments to “Sorry, Ebooks. These 9 Studies Show Why Print Is Better”

  1. E is better if e is what you need. Print is better if print is what you need. This is not a black-or-white game. I read both, depending on what I need to do. Why must everything be either/or?

    • “Why must everything be either/or?”

      Because it’s a HuffPo piece?

      Asking the right questions in the right order means you can make studies/surveys say whatever you want them to.

      “Students opt for physical copies of humanities books, even when digital versions are available for free.
      While students prefer reading digital texts for science and math classes, they like to study the humanities in print. A study conducted by the University of Washington in 2013, and quoted in The Washington Post, shows that 25 percent of humanities students bought physical versions of free ebooks.”

      Want to place any bets those bought pbooks contained an one user only ‘code’ they needed to be able to do the online coursework? (Or the free ebook was last year’s, so it wouldn’t line up with this year’s?)

      • Your reasoning strikes me as sound, but there’s a bigger problem in the conclusions drawn from the U of W study.

        I think the HuffPo should get someone with some kind of math skills to check out the studies they quote. The study that supposedly proves humanities students prefer print actually proves no such thing.

        If “25 percent of humanities students bought physical versions of free ebooks” that means 75 percent of humanities students used the free ebooks. In what world does 25 percent equate to “they like to study the humanities in print”?

    • Because their livelihood depends on p economics not degrading any further.

      File under: “wishful thinking”.

    • Exactly what Deb said. I prefer e for the majority of my fiction reading, and print for non-fiction and that tiny percentage of fiction I know I’ll re-read, so collect.

      FYI: I am tired of papercuts. 😉

    • Exactly. I love my e-reader. I also love my print books. Circumstances make one or the other more convenient or enjoyable at different times. I prefer print cookbooks.

  2. When using a book as reference material I flip back and forth among sections. That’s slow and tedious with an ebook.

    • I use ‘E-reference material’ on a computer with something else open for gathering notes. Cut/paste the segments I need, save it to a new file if I think I’m going to need it again.

      And easier than flipping back and forth between bookmarks and better than finding out the last person to use the book was the tear-out-the-pages-they-need/want type. (Said pages now loose and/or missing …)

    • I’m usually just the opposite. When using a book as reference material, I want to search for key words and phrases. That’s even slower and more tedious with a print book.

      Ideally, when doing research, I want both printed and electronic copies of my research matter, because each format lends itself better to particular kinds of searches. But I can rarely afford this, and have to choose one or the other. Nowadays I usually choose ebooks, because I can get them quicker and usually cheaper.

      (You see my peculiar habits most clearly when I am writing essays and want to quote somebody on a specific topic. I can remember exactly what was said and who said it, but often I could not tell you where it was said if my immortal soul depended upon it. In such cases, Google Books is my salvation – when it happens to work. I find the book in which thus-and-such was said, and the exact wording and context – and then I can go and find it in the printed copy which I often happen to have in my own library. It saves hours of patiently leafing through the wrong damned book.)

      • EXACTLY. Search is impossible in a print book – even when you have the kind of memory I do, where I can remember the exact position on the page.

        You have to depend on an index – and a decent indexer (a very rare combination). Many books don’t bother with an index, and then it is a royal pain in the neck to find things.

  3. It took awhile for people to stop arguing that typewriters were better than word processors too. I remember some arguments that it was too easy to make corrections, and that typing on paper made you focus as a writer.

  4. Sorry, Huff. Consumers don’t care about studies.

  5. If they are going to the library more, maybe it’s cause they’re BUYING less that the other group.

  6. So HuffPo are going to abandon online publishing in favour of print distribution?

  7. Of course there are strengths and weaknesses of both formats. Print books have been around for centuries (and then there are those lovely scrolls), so they’ve evolved to have useful characteristics.

    Ebooks aren’t done evolving. What this kind of report highlights are the opportunity areas that digital formats have for evolving to work even better for us.

    Personally, what I’d love is a digital device that looks just like a book, but every indistinguisable-from-paper-like page is a digital display. Any book’s content on a thing that feels and acts like a book. (But you can adjust the font, watch videos, submit forms, etc. — each sheet-of-paper-page is a web page, as it were, bound like books in different sizes/page counts, or single sheets, etc.) And inexpensive. Think magic paper. 🙂

    Not impossible to do; I suspect we’ll see it before too long.

    • It’s been tried, to an extent, in the form of dual-pane ebook readers. Panasonic tried it and it bombed. Too heavy, too expensive. And it didn’t appeal to pbook fans any more than slate designs.

      Microsoft had a more sophisticated device prototype called Courier intended for academic markets using a form of OneNote. They backed off.

      The principle behind this kind of derivative product design is called Skeuomorphism.


      Apple used it a lot. For a while. Then they evolved past it. The idea behind skeuomorphism is that make the new product seem familiar and allow users to bring in their experience from the older product to simplify adoption.

      It works, on occassion, with complex products. Most of the time it proves to be more effective to design the interface of the new product for easy discoverability and make it easier to learn.

      I wouldn’t bet on skeuomorphic ebook readers making a return. One display (of any kind) will always be cheaper than two or twenty or whatever. And, while a foldable display is a goal of some companies, a rollable scroll-type display is a more likely evolution for the target market. (Phone, tablets, etc)

      For ebook readers a more likely evolutionary path lies in advanced software usability features than hardware designs.
      (For example: ereaders that index your personal library, ala Google books, and answer voice queries ala Alexa.)

      • Here’s a few reports on past skeuomorphic ereaders:


      • I know there have been early forays, but they aren’t what I actually described: A physical item that is essentially indistinguishable from paper. Two clunky heavy screens aren’t paper. Inexpensive, feels like real paper, that has “digital ink” on it, as it were, is a completely different thing. (And early forays often fail before somebody “gets it right.”)

        • (And to make it clear, I think there are actual human usability features stemming from the “codex” format of hundreds of sheets of material bound at the edge. You can stick your finger in multiple places to jump back and forth much faster than clicking bookmark icons[etc.], you can skim ahead/back by quickly flipping pages then return to where your finger is, etc. The reason people prefer paper books is… they like the features of paper books. I simply want those squares of paper to be dynamic content rather than static ink dots.) 🙂

          • Oh, I know.
            On the old TV show ANDROMEDA they had a dynamic paper format called “flimsies” that were essentially paper thin tablets.

            Looked cute.
            But when it comes to alternative reading devices, the window-shade extensible GLOBAL (from EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT) is a lot more viable for the real world.


            The moment flexible OLED technology gets here, that is what cellphones and tablets will evolve into.

            The key fact is that if you have dynamic display technology, one is all you need and doubling or trebling the cost buys you nothing because the pbook aficionados want their pbook smell and solide heft and their static displays. And none of those things add value to an ebook reader. It won’t sell any more than a slate format.

            A codex-format ereader is a lot like an ornithopter. If you really work at it you can build one but its a lot of trouble to no added value.

            • I humbly disagree… I’m a definite ereader person (since around 2000), -however- I would love to have a book-like device such as I described, because it would be a better user experience for me (especially for certain kinds of material; even with novels [mostly linear] I would still like a more paper-like experience; but certainly for anything non-linear like a textbook or reference I mostly find the ebook single-pane experience is much worse, and would love sheets of digital paper). I’m not a “smell of the book” guy. I completely disagree that one display is all you need. I’d love a desk filled with paper-sized displays just like I have a desk filled with bits of paper — because multiple viewable surfaces works better for me. (I have dual monitors with large monitors… and I’d love more, but not in the format of a wall of monitors. I have a few tablets and I use them like paper, but they’re so much clunkier it isn’t the same.) Until we actually create a digital technology that perfectly mimics paper in every way (including low cost), we won’t know… but I’ll betcha they’d be wildly popular.

  8. HuffPo GuanO.

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