Most people prefer reading paper books over digital books on tablets, phones

From Study Finds:

Digital books on tablets, smartphones, and devices like Amazon’s Kindle are certainly convenient, but according to a new survey most people still prefer a good old fashioned paper book. There’s just something satisfying about turning the page and holding a physical book in one’s hands, as over two-thirds of adults say they always opt for a real book over digital reading.

Put together by Oxfam, researcher polled 2,000 respondents in the United Kingdom regarding their thoughts on paper books versus digital books. Close to half (46%) enjoy physically turning pages and 42 percent prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands. One in four say they love the smell of paper books. Meanwhile, another 32 percent feel like they become much more immersed in the story while reading a paper book and 16 percent go for traditional books because they remind them of libraries.

. . . .

Interestingly, over a third of respondents (35%) enjoy buying paper books because that allows them to proudly display them on their bookshelf as a background during Zoom meetings.

All in all, only 16 percent of adults prefer digital books and a meager eight percent who favor audio books. On average, the survey finds most adults own 49 books and read for three hours per week.

“People prefer to read physical books because they offer something more tangible and grounded. There’s something that can feel more “permanent” about real books over digital formats,” says Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, in a statement. “Reading offers us a form of escapism. It provides us with a break from our everyday lives, and often also, an opportunity to learn something new and expand our minds.”

. . . .

Three-quarters say they’re considering donating books they’ve finished and 72 percent usually buy used books themselves. Moreover, this research suggests that books are the top item most adults are willing to buy used. Seventy-one percent say they buy used books because it is cheaper and 52 percent do it because it is better for the environment.

Link to the rest at Study Finds

35 thoughts on “Most people prefer reading paper books over digital books on tablets, phones”

  1. 1800 boxes of books later (hubbie & me), almost nothing will convince me to buy a physical book vs an ebook for fiction or narrative non-fiction. It takes a lot of images or a seriously footnoted/indexed research book for me to make an exception any more.

    I buy circa 1000 ebooks from Amazon annually (and hubbie buys more) — that’s several bookcases’ worth if they were physical.

    I only wish the revolution had come sooner…

    I guess arranging them by color or height on my reader isn’t as satisfying as making Zoom wallpaper out of their physical incarnations, but you can’t have everything.

  2. Lots of questions with these kinds of surveys.
    But te TL:DR is right here:

    “Seventy-one percent say they buy used books because it is cheaper and 52 percent do it because it is better for the environment. ”

    And just how much do authors get from used pbook sales?

    • To be fair, publishers don’t make any money from used book sales either.

      However, I wonder how many people purchase new books with the plan to sell them to lower their total cost of ownership. My suspicion is that there have to be a few, but it’s only a small percentage of all book buyers.

      • Given the abysmal amount of money used book stores give when they’ll actually take your book, I’d bet not many.

        • This depends on the bookstore, and on whether they insist on doing it in cash or with store credit.

          I only have personal experience with three entities–Half-Price books (medium-sized chain), 2nd and Charles (smaller chain), and COAS books, which is in Las Cruces.

          HPB is the worst. Cash only, and they low-ball the value. 2nd and Charles does cash or store credit, the latter value is double the former, and they don’t low-ball nearly as much. COAS has a rather interesting model–they give you a fifty percent discount on x dollars’ worth of books, e.g., instead of paying thirty dollars for those books you pay fifteen, and that value was pretty decent, IMO.

  3. Cliff Notes Summary.

    “A survey by paper book publishers says paper books best, and much better than market 70% dominated by bloke with private space programme.”

    • Well, apart from the minor detail that Oxfam is not a publisher. The claim that this is “by paper book publishers” is an example of selecting alternate facts to enable you to dismiss something you would rather ignore.

      This is why I roll my eyes at so much commentary from the self-publishing world. Self-publishing dominates commercial genre fiction. This also is the sort of book that best lends itself to ebook format. What is conveniently overlooked is that commercial genre fiction is just one part of publishing. If your idea of a “book” is limited to commercial genre fiction, then any broader discussion of books is going to seem nonsensical to you.

      • There’s also K-12 where kids “prefer” print because they have no choice and academic textbooks where student prefer print because they can buy used and resell.
        Which is why surveys of “preference” that don’t distinguish categories and overgeneralize blindly are useless.
        Many different markets wity many different traits.
        But when you need a smoke screen…

          • Where do tgey have access to ebooks?
            What do they read on?
            And, my main point, “what kind of books”?

            I agree with you that there is more to publishing than commercial narrative fiction. But by the same rule, distinction must be made about when what, where, how, and why.

            Lumping all publications into one grab bag and all reading into a generic “reading is reading” isn’t helpful for any kind of forward looking economic analysis. Most of these overbroad, overgeneralized, surveys smell suspiciously of marketing. And when the originator/propagator is a retailer/distributor I’m inclined to dig out the salt shaker.


          • kids, etc.

            I have the same as Richard, and the same situation. Up until late high school kids are not allowed to use electronic devices in class, even ereaders. My 15 year old screams whenever I say “e-book” even though her phone is an extension of her arm, and my 12 year old gamer insists on paper. Go figure.

            FWIW, I remember recently reading some popular sci-fi where your phone display WAS the palm of your hand, or something like that.

          • I think many children like physical books because they’re interesting objects – many have brightly colored covers, illustrations, etc.

            From a behavior science standpoints, it helps the sale of p-books that children associate them with reading before most have any experience reading a lot of text on a screen.

      • Well, apart from the minor detail that Oxfam is not a publisher.

        No, they are a nationwide retailer of paper books. Not the same, but close enough.

        This reminds me of the ‘study’ that ‘proved’ that people prefer paper. The study was done by questioning bookstore customers, as most likely was this one.

        “Oh, I see you are holding a paper book! Tell me, do you prefer paper or electronic?”

        You call that self-selection a study?

  4. I like putting a paper book flat on the lunch table, smashing it open with an anvil, and enjoying lunch while the book reads itself to me.

  5. Mr. Hershberger makes a good point here, of course, but my (limited) sense is that this site/blog has a dominant self-publishing theme. And with many participants interested in the Genre Fiction slot of “book publishing.” Both of which happen to be my main interest.

    Which then, quite naturally, brings me to a question for our host, Mr. PG himself, i.e.: What is the breakdown of visitors to this site? Are their book publishing interests known? Self- vs Trad? Fiction vs. Nonfiction? Genre vs. Nongenre (or whatever the nomenclature is)? Any clues?

    • Good questions, H.

      The factual answer is, “I don’t know.”

      In some cases, the nature of the comments to various posts reveals or provides clues to some of the answers to your questions, but there are far more visitors to TPV than there are visitors who leave comments. I can’t say I’ve ever attempted to calculate the percentage of visitors who leave comments and DK if WordPress can provide that information for me.

      In terms of scale, WordPress says TPV has received over 300K comments. (I’ve archived more than half of TPV’s posts in the interest of site performance and am not sure if comments to those posts are included in the 300K number or not)

      Several years ago, I took a broad look at the email addresses in the WordPress database and noticed some that indicated they originated from what looked like employee email addresses issued by some traditional publishers, but didn’t keep track of publishers or numbers. (I’m inclined not to repeat that kind of inquiry because I don’t want to feel like I’m snooping on visitors to TPV)

      My general impression is that the majority of those posting are interested in self-publishing to a greater extent than traditional publishing, but can’t provide any educated guesses to answers for your other questions.

      Perhaps I need to take a dive into the immense and varied world of WordPress plugins and see if I can find one that allows me to post a questionnaire on these topics so we can all see what the visitors who come here have to say.

      • Thanks for reply, PG. And roughly what I figured your reply would be. As to:
        “Perhaps I need to take a dive into the immense and varied world of WordPress plugins and see if I can find one that allows me to post a questionnaire on these topics so we can all see what the visitors who come here have to say.” … It could be interesting, but totally up to you.

    • Sure. “The results of this study do not match my particular area of concern” is a perfectly sensible response. “The results of this study do not match my particular area of concern and are therefore obvious BS” is not. It at best is parochial. “The results of this study do not match my particular area of concern and are therefore obvious BS and I will now make up facts to confirm this” is disingenuous.

  6. No, Oxfam is not a publisher, but inasmuch as it describes itself as “a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice” it’s difficult to fathom how knowing people’s reading preferences might advance its stated goals and, therefore, how it could justify paying (presumably) the consumer research organization OnePoll (according to the OP) to research the topic. Unless one knows where Oxfam got the money to pay OnePoll and that it did not come from actual or hoped-for donations from the traditional publishing industry, dismissing the proposition because “Oxfam is not a publisher” seems itself to be “an example of selecting alternate facts to enable you to dismiss something you would rather ignore.”

  7. There are a couple ergonomic issues.

    I like being able to increase the font size, allowing me to more easily read the text. That’s hard to do with a preprinted book. I suppose I could ask a print on demand publisher to print me a book to spec, using 16 pt for the body text.

    The historic and less portable solution for this problem has been to use a viewer to display each page enlarged.

    There are also books that do not yet easily translate into ebooks, like graphic novels, where even an iPad Pro 12.9″ tablet requires scaling each page down a tetch.

    • Agreed, Michael.

      My Paperwhite is my primary (close to exclusive) tool for reading long-form fiction and non-fiction. My standard use of the device is with a slightly larger than default font.

  8. Oxfam is a massive charity. They are also, according to Wiki (not an ideal reference but adequate for this type of discussion IMO) the largest used bookseller in Europe, and I believe in the UK as well. (Used bookstores loathe them.) But that explains the survey emphasis on resale of used books and other items. To imply they’re some shill for the scary world of big publishing is pretty ridiculous when you have zip to back it up.

  9. The survey questions (as I understand them) were not “what type of book do you prefer to own/buy?” but which would you rather READ?

    I have a Kindle Paperwhite; it’s super convenient for frequently borrowing library e-books, but if a publisher offers to send me a new genre fiction novel for free with a choice between the paperback and the e-book, (all other factors being equal) I’m personally going to read the paperback copy. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

    That said, I’ve READ far more novels in audiobook form this year now that the gyms here are open–yeah, I’m that dude at the gym with headphones on, reading a book while doing dumbbell curls.

  10. Oxfam would say this, wouldn’t they, because they sell vast numbers of 2nd hand and older books in the UK at knock down prices! They have whole stores devoted to this. Writers make precisely nothing from their sales but they get to feel all virtuous. They probably polled their customers! I occasionally buy books from their stores but only old books that are out of print. It’s like those prosperous looking people I’ve met at book events who tell me proudly that they’re going to ‘wait and buy a second hand copy’. For myself, I read almost all my fiction on Kindle these days. A lot of it. Often far into the night. If I particularly love a book I may want to own a paper copy but I’ll still read it in eBook form. And I’m very happy for readers to buy my own books, traditional and self published, as eBooks, if that’s what they like, because at least then I get some much needed income!

  11. Couldn’t find the poll to see the internals. I don’t rely on other people’s interpretations of these things.

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