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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: Kids Really Do Prefer Print Books

I was very pleased to come upon this article recently: “Kids actually like reading paper books more than screens.” It is from The News and Observer, 3/10/17, and it was written by Teresa Welsh.

Granted, I’m a commercial printing broker, so I have a vested financial interest in liking this sort of thing, but what made it stand out for me was that it challenged my beliefs. In my more cynical moments, I had always thought print would die out once today’s kids grew up. I figured they preferred digital books to print books. Maybe that’s not so true.

Here’s the gist of the article. (It is very short, but it includes a number of links to equally compelling information.)

  1. Kids who have multiple electronic devices tend to read less.
  2. Kids who do read a lot tend to not read on electronic devices.
  3. Electronic devices might be less appealing because of the easy access to games or a website. That is, these easily accessible distractions might provide instant gratification but derail the long-term gratification of reading a book.
  4. In spite of the proliferation of tablets and e-readers, the sales of print books has been going up, not down.
  5. Print books actually help young readers focus on the books they are reading.

Background Articles Referenced in The News and Observer Piece

Teresa Welsh’s article in The News and Observer links to some interesting information. First of all, she bases the article on a study done in Australia, and a link in Welsh’s article takes you to an abstract of this research. (Computers & Education, Volume 109, June 2017, Pages 187–196, “The influence of access to eReaders, computers and mobile phones on children’s book reading frequency.”)

This is the study Welsh’s article references: “2016 Western Australian Study in Children’s Book Reading.” The abstract noted above describes the behavior of kids with access to digital reading devices and their choice of print books for their recreational reading (i.e., when it was their choice rather than their teacher’s or parents’ choice as to what they read and how). This study correlates with the findings in Welsh’s article, but it also notes the external pressure on children to use digital reading devices (i.e., the high utilization of electronic reading devices and similar technology in schools, plus parents’ desire to ensure their kids’ digital literacy).

The study also found that increased access to mobile phones (another reading device) correlated with less reading by the children.

A second link in Welsh’s article takes you to “Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens,” from https://theconversation.com, 3/9/17, by Margaret Kristin Merga and Saiyidi Mat Roni.

This article notes: “… that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens.”

Ironically, the assumption I had made about young people being highly digitally literate and preferring this medium can be traced back to a 2001 article by Marc Prensky in which he used the term “digital natives,” suggesting that young people are not only fluent in digital technology but that they also prefer it for reading. According to Merga and Roni’s article (“Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens”), this is not necessarily backed up by research. However, it has exerted influence on schools, which in many cases have leaned toward digital reading devices and away from print books in their buying decisions.

According to Merga and Roni’s article, “…by doing this, libraries are actually limiting young people’s access to their preferred reading mode, which in turn could have a detrimental impact on how often they choose to read.”

Merga and Roni’s article then goes on to note that children like print books because they are easier to focus on without the distractions digital reading devices offer. The article then encourages parents and teachers to foster a love of reading in children by doing the following:

  1. Those who love to read can inspire children to do the same, so make sure the children see that you love reading.
  2. Provide reading opportunities (ample time and quiet spaces with good light).
  3. Provide print books.
  4. Discuss ideas in the books with the children.
  5. Find out what the children like to read and encourage them to read it.

What You Can Learn from These Articles

This is what I gleaned from all these articles:

  1. Print books are actually proliferating, not going away. In a world with more and more electronic devices, “paper book sales are increasing. In the first half of 2016, paperback book sales grew 8.8 percent over the first half of 2015, to $1.01 billion. Electronic books were down 20 percent to $579.5 million” (from “Kids actually like reading paper books more than screens,” The News and Observer, 3/10/17).
  2. We shouldn’t assume that all marketing data reflect actual preferences (even if kids are in fact “digital natives,” they apparently still do prefer print books over e-books).
  3. Kids model behavior of those they respect. If you are seen to be a reader of print books, and a lover of the tactile nature of print books, your kids will be inspired to do the same.
  4. As a culture, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The immediate gratification of unlimited digital options (access to a game or website when you’re reading a book) detracts from reading. Reading takes commitment (time and attentiveness), but it provides a deep gratification. Multitasking has been proven to be a myth. It just allows you to do a number of things at the same time badly.
  5. If you are a book designer or printer, don’t lose heart. There’s still room for your skills and knowledge.
  6. Print books provide a tactile experience. Digital books only provide a virtual experience.
  7. On the plus side, digital products are interactive in certain ways that print books are not. Some young readers benefit from this difference (an e-reader’s highlighting a part of a word, for instance, may help a particular child learn to read more quickly). Therefore, the ideal approach is to determine whether a print book or a digital book is more appropriate for a specific child and a specific learning task. Both have their place.

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