American Bookworms Still Love Paper

The death of the printed book appears to have been greatly exaggerated.

Nearly three quarters of participants (73 percent) in a recent Pew Research Center study said they had read a book in the last year, largely on paper.

Of the more than 1,500 American adults who said they’d read a book in the last 12 months, nearly two thirds (65 percent) had read a print book. That’s more than twice the number who had read an e-book during the period (28 percent) and more than four times as many (14 percent) who said they’d listened to an audio book.

“Book readers are book readers,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at Pew.

“When they got new formats to enjoy the thing they like to do, they picked up on the new format but they didn’t give up on the old,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Shift in E-Book Landscape

Among Americans reading books in digital form, it appears there has been a marked increase in the number using tablets and mobile phones to do so, Pew’s reasearchers also found.

From 2011 to 2016, the percentage of Americans reading books on a tablet more than doubled, from 4 percent to 15 percent. The number reading books on mobile phones jumped from 5 percent to 13 percent.

Meanwhile, during the same period, the number of Americans reading books on PCs and laptops jumped four points — from 7 percent to 11 percent — and the number using e-book readers inched from 7 percent to 8 percent.

While e-book readers essentially have a single purpose, multifunction devices can perform a variety of tasks, Rainie noted.

“Tablets and cellphones do many things,” he said. “They’re like Swiss Army knives for information. E-book formats can be easily exploited to those mutltifunction devices, so the single purpose e-reader has just given way to tablets and cellphones.”

Millennials Read More Than Elders

Convenience also may be a factor contributing to the relatively flat use of e-readers.

“It’s just one more item with a battery that you’ve got to lug around,” said Virginia Kuhn, an associate professor of cinema media arts at the University of Southern California.

“People have their tablet or their phone with them all the time, and they can do other things with them, so it makes sense to read books on them, too,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Because of their size and weight, there may be another problem with e-readers.

“Personally, I never lose anything, but I’ve lost about six Kindles,” Kuhn said.

Young adults read more than Americans in other age groups, Pew also found. For example, 80 percent of 19- to 29-year-olds surveyed said they had read a book in the past year. That compares to 73 percent of those aged 30-49, 70 percent for 50- to 64-year-olds, and 67 percent for those aged 65 and older.

“The belief that young people were going to stop reading books because it’s something for old people is simply not the case,” Rainie said.

Tactile Allure

Although Americans are reading books in all mediums, very few in Pew’s poll (6 percent) said they read e-books exclusively. On the other hand, nearly four out of five (38 percent) reported reading print books exclusively.

“When you talk to people about printed books, what’s especially appealing is the tactile sense of them. There’s something about curling up with a book. There’s a heft to it, even a special smell,” Rainie said.

“Print books are still loved and used widely because they are a wonderful technology in their own right,” said Richard Davies, publicity manager for AbeBooks.

“You can drop them and there’s no damage. They start up instantly. They don’t require energy to run. It’s easy to lend a copy to a friend, and used copies are easy to find,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Most importantly,” Davies continued, “there is often a strong emotional attachment to a physical book that has really moved the reader. People bond with a copy of a physical book that has moved them — a dog-eared paperback that has been read 20 times can mean the world to someone.”

For many people, books are road maps to their lives, noted John Carroll, a mass communications professor at Boston University.

“When you look at a person’s library, you can see their personal history,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “There are stories of people going into book stores and saying, ‘I’ve just read the e-book version of this — now I want to own it,’ so they buy the printed book. It just didn’t seem real to them as an e-book.”

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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