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In a Digital Age, Print Books Find Favor With Young People

A new survey out of the United Kingdom finds that, despite their apparent absorption in digital devices, young people still seem to like their books in printed form.

The survey, conducted by the research group Voxburner, found that 62 percent of people ages 16-24 said they preferred printed books to e-books. One of the top-cited reasons: "I like to hold the product." (Also near the top, interestingly, was not wanting to be "restricted to a particular device.")

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Well, you may say, maybe that's just kids in the U.K. But in fact the findings match up pretty well with those of a Scholastic survey published earlier this year. That survey found that, while a fast-growing percentage of U.S. children ages 6-17 were reading e-books, they predominantly turned to print books when reading for fun. Nearly 60 percent also said they would always want to read books printed on paper, even if e-books become more widely available. Again, the experience of holding the book in their hands was a key factor. 

Relatedly, The New York Times has an interesting story on the "staying power" of the book, at least as a technological concept. The article notes that e-book publishers are increasingly trying to make their products look and function more like printed books, even as efforts to add cutting-edge interactive enhancements to digital books have seemingly foundered. From the piece:

What makes all this activity [around e-book publishing] particularly striking is what is not happening. Some features may be getting a second life online, but efforts to reimagine the core experience of the book have stumbled. Dozens of publishing start-ups tried harnessing social reading apps or multimedia, but few caught on. ... 

"A lot of these solutions were born out of a programmer's ability to do something rather than the reader's enthusiasm for things they need," said Peter Meyers, author of "Breaking the Page," a forthcoming look at the digital transformation of books. "We pursued distractions and called them enhancements."  

The Times story goes on to quote a tech entrepeneur who says that, because book publishers are tied to certain conventions, the real innovations in authoring and reading will likely come from outside the book format entirely. (He cites the storytelling-community site Wattpad as one example.) But whether such platforms can—or should—reduce the role of actual books for certain types of reading remains open to question. Kids seem to understand it's not necessarily a matter of one way or the other.   

Photo: Anne Sophie Parigot searches for books for her 3 and 6-year-old children at the New York Public Library bookstore in September. The library released a list of 100 great books from the last 100 years in an exhibit entitled, "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter."--Kathy Willens/AP-File

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