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Paper or pixel?
For a long time journalists have been predicting the death of printed books as we move into the digital world, but how close really is…
For a long time journalists have been predicting the death of printed books as we move into the digital world, but how close really is their demise? Teenager Leah Purcell shares her experience of reading in the digital age.
by Leah Purcell
I have always loved books. Unlike most teenagers I prefer a book to TV or social media sites. The problem emerged when I began running out of space. However now, books can also be found in digital form, as ebooks on kindles and kobos or websites like Oyster — a Netflix for books — or wattpad. I can embrace literature as a true teenager, digitally and in ways my parents don’t understand.
But what about the novelty of the traditional book? Part of the reading experience is the crackle of the pages,the smell of the paper, and seeing your progress as suddenly there are only a few pages left. With ebooks you can’t see how far you’ve come, the end comes almost as a surprise, there’s a lack of build up and a loss of feeling. Despite all these sentimental and nostalgic arguments, I have to admit that the over 100 books stacked throughout my room are a crucial part of the decor. Owning a digital book on a kindle or a kobo is completely different to actually physically owning a book that you can touch and see, well, see in 3D. Moreover ebooks don’t yellow with age or have that coffee stain from years ago. Books are a record of time in a way ebooks aren’t.
62% of young people from the ages of 16–24 prefer printed books to ebooks.
– Research by Voxburner
Then there are the screens. While it is an advantage to be able to read in the dark, the glowing irritates your eye, making reading for a long period uncomfortable. And while ebooks may be cheaper, you can’t lend them, unless you want to trust someone with the actual device. You can’t even buy second hand versions so there’s no escape for cheapskates — you’ve got to actually buy the book.
Despite these rather weird misgivings of an avid reader, the benefits cannot be denied. It takes up much less space, is a lot lighter than lugging ten books in your suitcase whenever you go on holiday and ebooks are actually cheaper than their paper relatives. There is a particular offer where most classics are free if bought on a kindle. The digitising of books has also led to a new platform for aspiring writers. There are multiple sites that allow you to post your own work and view others’, for example wattpad.
While this is a long way from the dream of publishing an actual book that can be bought at a bookstore or will appear in a library, it introduces the concept that anyone can be a writer whether you’re paid or not. It has also led to fanfiction: fans can add to or change their favourite book or write stories about their favourite celebrities and share them with other fans. Using the internet you can discuss books with fellow readers easily, on wattpad or even social media sites such as tumblr. No longer do you have to walk all the way to the library to discuss your latest find at book club — the internet does it for you from home yet again.
A whole new universe of literature has been created. Some believe that this distracts from the actual reading, but we are finding more and more ways to explore and discuss books. This allows books to appeal to and attract new audiences, people who have before found reading dull. However despite all these new attractions, the printed book remains preferred. Apparently I’m not the only one who enjoys the physical aspects of reading, turning the page, holding the book. Society sees my generation as attached to their phones and experts in digital life. However, when it comes to books even teenagers prefer the traditional version. Recent research by Voxburner concludes that 62% of young people from the ages of 16–24 prefer printed books to ebooks.
Part of the reading experience is the crackle of the pages, the smell of the paper, and seeing your progress as suddenly there are only a few pages left.
Studies have found that ebooks actually make reading harder for young children. Ebooks designed for children are full of special features and animations to enhance the experience, but it has been found that younger readers simply skip the actual reading to access the pretty pictures. So it appears that if anyone prefers ebooks it is the older generation perhaps because they can read the enlarged font. While preference for ebooks is higher in older age groups the traditional printed versions still win out. Statistics published by Statista in May 2014 shows that ebooks make up only 12.3% of the total book sales worldwide. Moreover, the global revenue made from printed book sales in 2014 was $102.24bn, while ebooks was only $14.55bn.
So it looks like in the future it will not be the death of the printed book as previously prophesied; in reality it will continue to flourish. Ebooks have a long way to go before they can be seen as threat to printed version. However no matter what the form of the book is the most important thing is of course the content. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
In the end, all that matters is that people continue to love reading, whether with printed books or ebooks.
Leah is a student who is currently doing a work experience placement at Wilson Fletcher