Pulp Magic

AUGUST 8, 2016

Students Love Print

You know what’s cool at school these days? Books printed on paper. And it’s not just a retro thing like vinyl records or flip phones. Both scientific studies and the observations of teachers point to a continued preference for printed textbooks over electronic versions among college students. One digital textbook pilot program at the University of Washington even found that about a quarter of students participating in the study bought print versions of the e-textbooks they were given for free.

By the way, did you know that people between the ages of 18 and 29 have the highest print readership of all demographic groups? They also use libraries in greater numbers. This is surely baffling to textbook publishers – the switch to digital is not the slam dunk it once seemed to be.Girl Reading in Library

So why do digital natives value books in print? For the same reasons why everyone else does – the sight of words on a page you can visualize, remember and find, the smell of the pages, the sound of a page turning and the tactile heft of a solid book. As I’ve noted here before, there is something innate about our brain’s ability to understand and store information that’s been printed on a paper.

Naomi Baron of American University has literally written the book on printed vs. digital reading. According to her, digital readers skim the screen while analogue readers are more likely to read word-by-word. Digital readers are also much more easily distracted than print readers. A whopping ninety percent of on-screen readers multitask while reading, according to one study Baron found, but only 1 percent of hard copy readers stray from their texts. The result is greater comprehension and less time spent web surfing.

Our Paper and Productive Learning: The Second Annual Back-to-School Report supports these findings. But that doesn’t mean print vs digital is a zero-sum game with one winner and one loser. Search “school supplies” and you’ll find hundreds of videos posted by paper- and pen-obsessed students who simply gush about the joys of fresh loose leaf paper and markers to their millions of viewers.

That’s no contradiction. Digital and print coexist. They support each other in ways that Millennials understand. And that’s great news for the future of paper.