Readers love books – real books, the ones you can hold in your hand. In spite of the popularity of ebooks, most readers still prefer to read print books. Is this just resistance to change or is there something deeper behind this? Are the benefits of reading (see previous post) the same for both?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself in order to understand why I waffle back and forth on the issue of print vs digital books.
I have overstuffed wooden bookcases as well as a disorganized library of ebooks. (I read most of my ebooks on my iPad using the Kindle app. I also read a few using Vyrso.) I enjoy both print and digital but which is better?
TWO REASONS I PREFER EBOOKS TO PRINT BOOKS
- COST – Not only are ebooks cheaper, you can easily find discounted and even free books through sites such as bookbub.com and gospelebooks.net.
- CONVENIENCE – I like the convenience of a portable library when I travel. It provides instant access to a variety of books without taking up space in my suitcase. Also, I find it easier to read newspapers on-line. There is no cumbersome paper to hold, fold or pile up.
THREE REASONS I PREFER PRINT BOOKS TO DIGITAL
- COMFORT – Curling up in a comfortable chair with my iPad just is not the same as doing so with a book. Also, reading from tablets, smart phones and computer screens can cause eye strain and headaches, symptoms of computer vision syndrome. (One benefit that devices do have over print books is the flexibility to change font, page size and format.)
- PLEASURE – What is pleasure reading for you? Sunning yourself on a beautiful beach with book in hand? Soaking in the tub with a good novel? Reading in bed on a lazy Saturday morning?
Reading for pleasure for me engages as many senses as possible. I like the feel of a book in my hands – its texture, weight and the thickness of the pages; the sound of flipping the pages; the smell; and the sensation of cracking open a brand new book. There are attempts to create some of these sensations with ebooks. (Check out the iPad book page flip/turn).
I do enjoy reading magazines on my iPad. Being able to zoom in on images to examine the finer details or to access additional content through videos and other media are a treat to the senses.
- SHARING – My greatest frustration with ebooks is not being able to pass them on to friends. I was surprised to discover recently that it is actually possible to share Kindle books but the sharing is limited to a one-time fourteen-day loan per book.
It’s also hard to share a book that has significant or sentimental value to you if it is not in print form. To the left is one of my most valued books given to me by one of my first Sunday School teachers. It is worn on the edges and inside the front cover, my name is awkwardly printed in pencil. The copyright year of the book is 1957 (before I was born, in case you are wondering!) I can’t imagine an ebook ever evoking such strong sentiment as a book such as this.
THE GREATEST ADVANTAGE PRINT HAS OVER DIGITAL
COMPREHENSION & RETENTION – Generally, I prefer nonfiction over fiction. Learning, studying, remembering and integrating new information into my life and writing is very important to me. There are studies that show that readers using print books understand and remember more of what they read than those who read books on screens. (The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens)
There are several reasons for this:
- Limitations of a screen – The visual limitation of what a reader sees on a screen interferes with comprehending what is being read. A reader cannot flip back or ahead or skim easily through a digital book. According to a 2013 article in Scientific American, the ability to touch and turn a physical page contributes to understanding and remembering what is being read.
Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text… (The Reading Brain in the Digital Age).”
- More Physically & Mentally Taxing – The stress on the eyes, the limitations of working with a screen and the movement required to turn the pages on a device require more of the reader than when reading a print book. By limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension”(The Reading Brain in the Digital Age).
I find this to be particularly true when reading deeply (more on that later) and reading to proofread or edit.
- More Distractions – One of the reasons I enjoy reading online and on my iPad is that it is quick and easy to look up definitions, place names and to follow links related to the content. However, I often find myself following interesting links that lead me far from the content I started with.
In Teaching With Interactive Picture E-Books in Grades K–6, when researchers compared children reading conventional books with children using interactive electronic picture books, they found that the former group learned more than the latter group. The conclusion was not that ebooks were bad for children but that “the act of reading on tablets is something different from reading traditional books, not better or worse”.
THEY ARE DIFFERENT
The quote above is probably the most helpful comment I came across in my research. Understanding that reading books on a screen is different than reading print books explains why many people enjoy both, but for different reasons.
We are not likely to see any significant changes in print books but I am excited about the possibilities with ebooks. Peter Meyers, author of Breaking the Page, believes that as long as ebooks are produced as replicas of print books, they will never reach their full potential. He shares fascinating ideas to improve ebooks so that readers will enjoy them more and retain more of what they read.
I look forward to those improvements so that I can enjoy deep reading regardless of whether the book is in print form or read on a screen.
In my next post, I will explain what deep reading is, how to do it and why it is important for those who want to grow deeper in their faith.