Paper Books Vs. E-Books: What 92% of College Students Actually Prefer And Why

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The rise of the use of electronics in every day life has brought about huge changes in the way that we live our lives- and one extremely popular and relatively new debate is the paper books vs. e-books.


We communicate using a phone in every single way- from calls to text to messaging to Facebook live- everything that we do is mediated by some sort of electronic device.


Not surprisingly, the innovation of E-books and E-readers felt like an alarm sounding for the industry of print publishing. The newfound experience and popularity of reading books in electronic version brought remorse and panic for our book-lovers.


After all- there is nothing like the feeling of a book in your hand and the smell of its pages at your fingertips.


If you are worried that E-books are taking over the market and pushing aside our printed ancestors, then think again.


Although books are read by people of all ages, from early elementary years through middle and high school, through college and adulthood- the interesting age range to zoom into is definitely the age where the most amount of money is spent on textbooks in particular- for college-going students.

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  • Recent Study Shows Which One Is Preferred

In a recent research between 2010 and 2013  researchers asked over 400 students in the United States, Slovakia, Japan, and Germany whether they prefer reading from print textbooks, or using e-books.


In this survey, which was part of American University’s linguistics professor Naomi Baron’s book Worlds Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, researchers found that 92% of college students in the United States preferred print over digital.


With such alarmingly high numbers, it is interesting to explore why students preferred one over the other.


Of course, as of any popular debate, there are pros and cons to each side.


Here is a list of some very strong pros (and cons!) for each side in the paper books vs. e-books war.



E-book PROS

paper books vs e-books


  • Quick and Easy:

It is easy to skim through book selections and purchase a book on your fingertips- and be able to start reading right away!


  • Portability:

It is easy to carry your entire library around on your one device!


  • Price Advantage (sometimes!):

Sometimes, e-book versions can be found as much cheaper than print versions of the same book!


  • Cool features:

There are many available features in the majority of e-readers or e-book softwares that make reading enjoyable and engaging. You can highlight quotes, find popularly highlighted quotes, click on a word to immediately find its dictionary definition, highlight pages, share books with others you know for short periods of time, and more!



E-book CONS

paper books vs e-books


  • Permanency of Purchase:

As easy as it is to pick a book, you are less likely to think your purchase through as you would with a physical book. If you buy a book you are not satisfied with or do not wish to keep, buying it as an E-book (unless it is a rental), you are stuck with it forever!


  • Price Disadvantage:

Although sometimes e-books are cheaper, a lot of the times they are the exact same price. Seems unfair when considering that the print version provides you with a physical copy!


  • Unease of Page-Flipping:

Although you can bookmark and travel from one page to another at your own will, it is very difficult to do so- and of course impossible to look at two places simultaneously as you could with print.


  • Distractibility:

Whether you read your digital copies from your phone, laptop, or e-book device, it is easy to become distracted with other features when engaging with a digital version, taking away from the experience of reading!


  • Difficulty Engaging:

Even with awesome new features, it is never the same as highlighting, dog-earing a page, or writing notes in the margins. You can personalize and engage with a physical book in a more real way.


Especially as a college student when you need to take notes, sometimes you need to flip back and forth and take notes with Post-Its galore- something you can’t quite do with a digital version


  • Eye-strain:

The strain on the eyes from reading excessively from any type of screen is the biggest complaint of college students in the above study. With the need to read for hours on end, the strain on the eyes from a digital version can make it difficult to concentrate, causing headaches, vision blurriness, and difficulty focusing on the information in front of you.


  • Tech Issues:

There is always the issue of needing to charge your device especially if you are in a place where you can’t charge it, if there are technical issues, if for some reason the battery stops working, or some error causes your books to be deleted or God knows what else! What if your book just suddenly disappears? You would never have such issues with a printed version!


Print Books PROS

paper books vs e-books


  • Kinesthetic Enjoyment:

Nothing compares to the feeling of holding a book in your hand and reading. The feel of the pages, the smell of the book.


  • Retention Boost

Research findings suggest that reading from a page on a book allows for better retention, understanding, and overall engagement. People who read from the paper books were more likely to retain information such as plot points and even details than those who read digital.


  • Reading Amount:

Research findings also suggest that when reading on a page, you are more likely to read through the entire page- and through a device you start off reading the top of the page thoroughly, the further you go down on the page the less time you spend absorbing the information. This is called an F-model of reading.


  • Return-ability:

You can ACTUALLY return a print book, or resell it at a used bookstore, or give it to a friend, or put it in a library. It will not go to waste in your shelf as it would in your e-book- and even the book-sharing features on your e-books are faulty and unsuccessful!


  • Variability of Engagement:

Even with the cool features of bookmarking and highlighting on a digital version, the amount of ways you can personalize your engagement when reading on a print over digital- use post its, dog-ear your book, write in the margins, highlight your favorite passages, you name it! Being able to handle your print physically automatically changes your level of engagement and absorption of what you read!


  • Intellect Illusion:

Just seeing your books on a shelf makes you feel smarter, researches show. You are more motivated to not only read, but the accumulation of books is a physical manifestation of an accumulation of actual knowledge as well!


  • Flippability:

Another one of the key arguments by college students is that it is easier to flip from one page to another while reading from a paper book, you don’t have to remember page numbers in the same way.


In an e-book, you can easily forget what is on the other page, and lose your place once you flip. With a paper copy, you can flip around, put your fingers between the pages, see the entire book physically at once rather than as a line of dots or page numbers on the bottom of a screen!


  • Motivation to Read:

Visibly seeing a book in your bookshelf or in piles around the room makes you more willing, and easily pick up a book to just read in the way you wouldn’t be able to make the effort for in a digital version.


Not only that, but the tactile sense of progress of visibly seeing and feeling how many pages have been read and are left to go helps in motivation to continue reading and complete the book thoroughly, rather than skipping around or stop reading when not knowing your progress.


Paper Books CONS

paper books vs e-books


  • Paper Cuts:

This doesn’t seem like much of a CON now does it? Flip your pages carefully!


  • Difficult to carry around

Interestingly, despite the fact that paper books are enjoyable, sometimes we have a weight limit when we are traveling and we can’t carry the amount of books we would like to. Good books are often left behind because of this sad reality.


  • Takes up too much space:

It is very rare to find a person who complains of books taking up too much space. The visual aesthetic pleasure in piles of books and bookshelves in a room not only makes one feel more intellectual, and it just looks beautiful!




Do you prefer e-books over print, contrary to research findings? Or do you consider yourself as a part of the 92%?


Comment below with your own experiences of both e-books and paper books, and your own personal Pro’s and Con’s of both sides of this heated debate!


Where do you stand on the paper books vs. e-books debate?


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