In the print vs. digital battle teenagers deliver a surprise


Teenagers grew up with computers and spend hours each week on electronic media. So, naturally, they prefer e-books to paper, right? Wrong, say researchers in multiple countries. Print is considerably more popular than e-books among readers 16-24 in Great Britain, according to a survey carried out last year for The Bookseller Children’s Conference.

Out of 1,000 respondents aged 16-24, 64 percent said they preferred print books, while only 16 percent said they preferred e-books. Twenty percent didn’t have a preference.

The findings are not unique to England, according to Naomi Baron, linguistics professor at American University, who surveyed more than 300 university students from Japan, Germany, Slovakia, and the U.S. She found that 92 percent preferred to do serious reading in paper books, rather than e-readers, computers, phones, or tablets.

Reading in print actually may be a better option for students, according to a Norwegian study reported in A study of 10th graders completed early this year showed that comprehension is better when reading texts in print versus on a computer screen.

Researchers theorize that the experience of relating to a book physically produces a mental map of the entire text, something readers don’t experience with an e-book where they can see only a page or two at a time.

Paper also seems to communicate more to the emotions than a screen does, according to tests conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada. Their test results seem to indicate a connection between sensory perception and involvement in the text.

The results may be different for magazines and newspapers, since the research targeted only book reading. However, the research results are dramatic enough to give even periodical publishers a reason to question the automatic conclusion that because they grew up in the digital age young people naturally prefer digital to print media. It’s something to think about.

Young people opt for print

When students at Penn State decided this summer to start a magazine called Impact, they planned to have both an online and offline presence—that is, a print magazine. “We feel print is really important,” stated co-founder and co-editor Frances Starn. Speaking on the magazine’s Kickstarter video she said “We feel that having people be able to hold the magazine in their hand and see something will help us reach the widest audience possible.”

What? These are college students, the people raised on the Internet, wirelessly connected 24/7. Wouldn’t they prefer to consume content on one of their several devices? Not so, according to a poll released this summer by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. The poll found that 75 percent of young adults aged 16-29 years of age said they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 65 percent of adults 30 and older.

“Younger Americans’ reading habits and library use are still anchored by the printed page,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst at Pew Research.  Americans under 30 are just as likely as older adults to visit the library and borrow print books, she said.

Sure, they love their technology, but there’s something about the look and feel of the printed page which they find attractive.