Not Everything Is Bad: A New Survey Reveals 92% of People Prefer Real Books to e-Books


"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books," famed Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges once said. 

And so many of us can't live unless we're surrounded by them, either.

There remains a perennial romanticism associated with the physical book — the smell of old, bound pages, the satisfaction of seeing your progress as you read — that seems somewhat lost in translation when converted to an electronic version. 

"I cannot sleep unless I am next to a Kindle," just doesn't have the same ring to it. 

As it turns out, a lot of young people still share Borges' affinity for hardcopies, despite his being born more than a century ago. 

Naomi Baron, American University linguistics professor and author of Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, conducted a series of cross-cultural studies with her colleagues, in which more than 300 college students around the world were surveyed on whether they preferred electronic or hardcopy books. 

A whopping 92% said they preferred the latter. 

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The researchers polled students from the United States, Germany, Slovakia and Japan, only to discover this preference transcended cultural boundaries. 

"When I asked what they don't like about reading on a screen — they like to know how far they've gone in the book," Baron told the New Republic. "You can read at the bottom of the screen what percent 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."

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Reading physical books engages almost all the senses in a way that electronic books don't, Baron said. "They [respondents] care about the smell of a book ... There really is a physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading," she said. 

The merits of reading hardcopy books also extend beyond the subjective. A 2014 study found readers who read a mystery story on Kindle were substantially worse at recalling details than those who read the paperback version.

And there's something that happens to us emotionally when we read real books. "In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers," Anne Mangen, a researcher at Norway's Stavanger University who led the study, told the Guardian.

This preference has ultimately been reflected in consumer patterns. In 2015, e-book sales notably declined, while hardcopy sales have been on the up.

So, next time you opt for a real book instead of a download, know that you are not alone — and that it's probably better for you too.