Print's reign as a dominant source of media is supposed to be coming to an end, but studies show that this perception may be misplaced. Millennials – in particular, college students – are expected to just drop all forms of physical documents, books and other materials in favor of the growing digital industry. But research has found that the opposite may be true. Young people aren't turning to e-books in lieu of hard copies, and this is especially pertinent in the world of academia.
The generational revolution is being rejected by the targeted generation
College students have been determined by marketers and analysts to have no interest in print products. The idea is that as digital natives who have grown up with the Internet and rapidly expanding – and accessible – technology, the current generation of students is the one that is going to all but end the use of paper books and documents in classroom settings. Coinciding with the escalated availability of e-textbooks, online materials and digitally-distributed lessons is supposed to be print's impending and unavoidable death. But this has not proved to be the case.
Instead, recent studies are finding that current students are overwhelmingly amenable to print texts. Two separate reports found that there was very little palpable interest in converting traditional scholastic formats to one that is digital-intensive. On the contrary, Publishers Weekly reported that Hewlett Packard surveyed 527 San Jose State University attendees and found that 78 percent of respondents either preferred print texts only or a complementary use of both print and digital materials.
New Republic writer Alice Robb cited an American University study, spearheaded by linguistics professor Naomi Baron, that surveyed 300 students in the United States, Japan, Germany and Slovakia. When asked which form of media would be most conducive to concentrating effectively, the results were nearly unanimous – 92 percent chose hard copy over cellphone, tablet, e-reader and laptop. The varying locations of those surveyed indicated that the preference toward print is not isolated in any particular area of the world; it appears to be consistent worldwide. Baron published her findings in her book, "Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World," which debuted in February.
A Scholastic survey of children aged 6 to 17, referenced by New Republic, noted that while ownership levels of e-readers among children shot up from 25 percent to 61 percent between 2010 and 2015, kids still widely prefer print books. Of those who reported having read an e-book before, 77 percent said most of the books they read are in print. To further the sentiment, 65 percent agreed that they would always have some desire to read hard-copy books, even when digital copies are readily available.
Why did students report such strong preferences for print?
The Hewlett Packard study listed several of the most commonly held views as to why students largely favor print materials. Of those surveyed, 54 percent cited ease of use as a reason for choosing print, 35 percent agreed note-taking ability was an issue and 11 percent just liked the physical feel of a book. Publishers Weekly asserted that the study, while conducting using a small sample size, proves that students are not interested in electronic formats, even though they are almost universally familiar with and immersed in digital media.
The source also noted that 67 percent of respondents said they would pay more to purchase the print version of a required e-book for class. To clarify, if it were mandatory to purchase an $80 e-textbook with the option of purchasing the hard copy to complement it for more money, the majority would be willing to do so. While 33 percent indicated they were perfectly happy just paying for the digital version, 24 percent said they would pay an additional $10 to obtain the physical copy, 31 percent say they would pay an extra $20, and 12 percent said they would even pay as much as $40 over the original cost to get their hands on the print book. Digital natives, indeed.
Robb interviewed Baron for her article, and asked what exactly about e-books causes apprehension among millennials. Baron responded that the two biggest reported issues are the inevitability of distraction when reading in an electronic format and eye strain, headaches and physical discomfort associated with reading from a screen. Students, she said, are largely engaged by the ability to feel what they are reading and remember the exact placement of words within the text – something that is impossible to do with digital counterparts.
The predicted imminent downfall of the print industry is likely a side effect of e-marketers attempting to grow their brands by claiming superiority over traditional formats. But it doesn't appear that consumers, at least those who are tasked with reading as part of their education, are jumping on board with this idea. Kids and young adults who were born and raised in the midst of a world that is dominated by digital media actually prefer print, displaying its everlasting power.