3 Reasons Behind the Digital Detox of E-book Readers
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on February 27, 2017

A Book, In Your Hands 

What is a physical copy of a book to you? Reading a printed book is a more relaxed and focused experience when compared to reading on a digital device. Your eyes don’t have to strain against that blue light projecting from the screen of an e-book. And without all the distractions, interactions, hyperlinks and multi-functions,  you have the ability to digest any length of literature uninterrupted. 

And, holding a physical copy of a book heightens our senses, making the experience more enjoyable. Anyone who has ever held a new book knows that there is an unmistakable smell that comes from its pages. We all know of that one explicit, sweet smell that soars from a book when flipping through its pages; the hint of vanilla derived from the wood-based paper, combined with adhesive and ink. Without any sounds or alerts, there is nothing to listen to other than your own thoughts and comprehension of each word. And, there is nothing quite like the feeling of physically holding a book and turning its pages. As you feel and read a book, you not only absorb the words and meaning better, but you are subconsciously remembering the physical location of the words; every passage is perceived as its own unique experience. 

A Slow, Steady Return of Print

Despite the mounting market for digital reading material, print books are maintaining prominence and appeal. Although there is a diverse selection of electronic platforms, such as audio books, podcasts, e-books, and others, evidence from the past few years indicates a steady rise in print books sales and a rather hasty decline in sales for the original electronic reading platform: the e-book. 

Nearly a decade ago there was speculation that with evolving e-reader platforms like Amazon Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, eBookwise, and Apple iPad, print-based material could not survive. Interestingly, in 2016, the majority of book formats posed promising numbers with hardcover sales up 5.4%, trade paperback sales up 4%, and board books up 7.4%. 

Why the Digital Decline?

The digital migration caused e-book sales between 2008 and 2010 to soar, up 1,260%. More recently, sales declined drastically in 2015, falling by 10% and another 20% during the first half of 2016. According to the Association of American Publishers, which collected data from over 1,200 national publishers, the e-book endeavor is back where it started, accounting for only 20% of the market. 

The Codex Group, which studies trends in publishing, surveyed 4,992 book buyers in April 2016. Results indicated that of total books purchased the share of e-books fell from 35.9% in April 2015 to 32.4% in April 2016. Another interesting conclusion of the survey shows that the book buyers spend nearly five hours of personal time on screens daily. About 25% of the respondents said they want to spend less time absorbing digital content and more time restoring the print-based reading experience. Overall, about 14% of book buyers are already reducing their electronic reading habits.

3 Reasons for the Shift Back to Print  

1. Digitally Declining Comprehension

Screen reading has taken a toll on how the average reader comprehends content. Constantly clicking, scrolling, linking, and skimming through text becomes ingrained in the way an individual retains information. Therefore, when sitting down to read a novel, that digitally altered retention level is naturally applied. The interactivity between various platforms of information, hyperlinked text, videos, and so on, causes the brain to create shortcuts when reading text of all formats.

E-readers continuously fall victim to interactive transitions like the Kindle e-reader to Kindle Fire tablet, which can lead to the readers’ inability to focus. The tablet delivers constant temptation and distraction to readers, pulling them away from, or enticing them, to skim over notifications, email, status updates, messages, and more.

An interesting 2012 study was conducted on Israeli engineering students who grew up in the digital age. The study included a review of their ability to comprehend information presented on screen and print reading. The result? Their comprehension of information was better on paper, even though the students thought otherwise. 

2. Stepping Back from the Social Media Sanctuary

The current generation of young adults is referred to as millennials. Although this group holds the title for using electronic devices the most and shifting from one social media platform to the next, there has been a recent shift in their social objectives. 

There is a growing inclination among millennials to remove themselves from the digital world due to the pressure to be constantly active on social media. Referring back to the Codex survey, of the 25% of book buyers that wanted to spend less time using their digital devices, 37% of those recipients were 18-24 years old. According to the research, the share of print books purchased was also the highest among this age group, at 83%. Perhaps this aligns with the social media overload diluting their digitally inclined schedules and nudging them more toward print.

3. Non-intuitive Notes

When it comes to interpreting text, a major advantage of reading a physical copy of a book is being able to markup pages with notes and highlighting stand-out passages. Getting to know the book inside and out is different when staring at a screen with continuous text. 

E-books provide various types of sticky note tools to annotate text, all with different uses, limits, and intricacies, but the sticky notes in e-books do not deliver the same comprehensive benefits for content interpretation. A study from Ryerson University indicated that students felt that marking passages in print was more effective than doing so digitally. In particular, students acknowledged that electronic sticky notes do not deliver memory assistance the way that paper sticky notes and the note-jotting capabilities of print do. Students were also less inclined to purposely search through menus for the electronic sticky notes within their e-books.

Expect Print to Continue Positive Path

New studies are being conducted regularly on the comeback of print and the unexpected dip in e-book sales despite being the most technologically innovative time in history. There are many reasons behind the print comeback and we have only brushed the surface with a few explanations. 

Print books offer an invaluable experience. But reading electronically is still a valuable experience. We encourage you to read in any format you prefer. 

But does the scanner-trained mind, jumping over lines of text, allow a reader to recollect and understand a book’s purpose and timeline? Is a reader’s comprehension at its best when they are constantly distracted by notifications and hyperlinks? Were you able to get through this entire piece without clicking on a link?

Feel free to pick up a physical or digital copy of ProLiteracy’s current book club selection, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Share your thoughts at our next book club session on April 12 with Doerr at ProLiteracy’s headquarters in Syracuse, NY. Join the discussion!


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