All of us have heard at least a few statistics about a reader’s preference for printed material versus electronic versions of the same material. Time and time again, research has shown that comprehension and retention are improved when the reader consumes printed matter. There are a few reasons for this:
- Readers are less likely to be distracted when reading on paper versus an electronic device.
- Paper documents, specifically those bound together like books, booklets, magazines, and reports, provide landmarks that researchers say to improve the ability to use “mental mapping” to aid retention. In other words, it’s easier to see how far along you are in a physical book than to tell how far you’ve gotten in an electronic copy.
- Numerous studies have shown that some readers prefer paper for school assignments and pleasure reading.
This blog highlights some of the industry studies that are the sources for these claims.
Reading Comprehension Is Better on Paper
According to a European research study of more than 170,000 participants from 19 countries, reading comprehension is better when reading from paper versus screens. Known as The Evolution of Reading in the Age of Digitisation (E-READ) Initiative, this undertaking drew on the results of 54 studies. It was funded by The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST).
Students can read digital formats faster, but this comes at the cost of comprehension. According to a March 2016 article in The Journal of Experimental Education entitled Reading Across Mediums: Effects of Reading Digital and Print Texts on Comprehension and Calibration by Lauren Singer Trakhman and Patricia Alexander, students were able to get the main idea from digital representations of texts, but they absorbed fewer details. This implies that students are much better off reading in print for in-depth studies like college or university-level courses.
More Details are Remembered on Paper
Children remember more details from stories that are read on paper. This study compared paper books to e-books enhanced with animations, videos, and games. A summary of the research can be found in the November 2013 Scientific American article entitled Why the Brain Prefers Paper by Ferris Jabr.
Learners Prefer Hard Copies
Learners prefer studying from hard copies. A 2013 research study entitled Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media by Naomi Baron (Publications of the Modern Language Association) surveyed readers across five countries. About 90% of these readers believed that their concentration was at its best when they read materials in print. Students also said that they were more likely to reread printed material than they were with digital alternatives.
Paper Is Preferred for Longer Text
Paper is the preferred medium for longer text. A 2018 international study entitled Academic Reading Format Preferences and Behaviors among University Students Worldwide: A Comparative Survey Analysis (by Diane Mizrachi, Alicia Salaz, Serap Kurbanoglu, and Joumana Boustany) found that a broad majority of the 10,000+ respondents preferred print for reading longer texts. They felt that they remembered the content better and were better able to focus on it.
Printed Books Are Holding Strong
Although research studies will provide relevant information, market competition can also be used to test the relevance of print. For example, the business success of print and electronic content presentations can be compared by referencing recent trade sales data. The following example is for consumer books. According to a report from the American Association of Publishers (a group primarily representing mainstream consumer book publishers, i.e., established trade publishers whose books you are likely to see in bookstores), e-books accounted for 11.3% of sales revenues. Suppose you include audiobooks, the share of non-printed titles increases by 8.6%. Market analysts acknowledge that other sources of e-book sales, such as educational and technical titles, would likely increase the overall figure, as would sales of e-books through self-publishing platforms. Some think this could bring the e-book figure closer to 30% of the total market.
Though e-books have developed as an essential segment of the book market, printed books still dominate as they represent at least 70% of sales. According to the book industry tracking firm NPD, printed book sales increased 13.2% from 2020 to 2021 and 21% from 2019 to 2021. These are massive growth numbers compared to typical market trends. The conclusion we should take from this is that the printed book remains strong despite compelling electronic alternatives.
Figure 1: Share of Total Trade Book Sales by Format (January 2022)
The Bottom Line
Not all of the results from market research studies put print in a positive light. The main drawback expressed in these studies is that print is more expensive than electronic delivery. Thus, the primary challenge facing PSPs is often proving the value of print for any given application. Print buyers want to be sure that their dollars are spent effectively. In addition, perhaps most important for promotional and marketing materials is that print — which was once the central information distribution method — now exists in a landscape of diverse content distribution options. Using a combination of print and electronic methods is frequently the most effective way to meet your client’s needs.
Source: Jim Hamilton, Consultant Emeritus at Keypoint Intelligence
Author bio: Jim Hamilton of Green Harbor Publications is an industry analyst, market researcher, writer, and public speaker. For many years, he was the Group Director in charge of Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Digital Printing & Publishing consulting services. He has a BA in German from Amherst College and a Master’s in Printing Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology.