Despite the stereotype that millennials are all about screen time, the age group still prefers print books over e-books, according to a recent University of Arizona study.
The study, led by UA Associate Professor Sabrina Helm, looked at perceptions of ownership and value associated with e-books versus print books. Helm said she was interested in looking at how digital consumption changes interpretations of ownership.
“What does that really mean to own a file of book or of a picture or video and so forth?” Helm said. “Is that the same as having the physical product in hand?”
Researchers conducted the study through four focus groups divided by age: Older generations, Gen Xers and two groups of millennials, one of college students and one of graduates.
Despite her initial assumptions that there would be more openness to digital reading in younger generations and to print in the older generations, Helm said the study found that it “is clearly not the case.”
Across all age groups, print books held more value as possessions, Helm said. Readers talked about loving the smell and feeling of a new book and their ability to be used as decorations.
Current UA senior Kayla Smith said she prefers physical books because she enjoys being able to show off her collection, which she said she couldn’t do on a screen.
Millennials in particular described the bond which print books form in their lives when they start reading as children, according to Helm.
“They touch the pages, they learn how to turn the page and they point at things in the book,” Helm said. “All of that is pretty difficult to do with an e-reader, and so there was very clearly this sense there’s this ability of a book to create social bonds.”
On the other hand, e-books won out for some in terms of convenience and usability. With a backlit screen and the ability to change font sizes, digital books can benefit older consumers who have difficulty reading, Helm said. Another plus the study found is they can help cut down on clutter, as all the books are housed in one space.
UA graduate student Jeffrey Grover said he prefers to use his Android tablet reader, especially when he’s traveling. That way, he can bring his entire library on the plane with him without having to pick out certain books to bring.
Helm said marketers of e-books can play up this utilitarian aspect as a service. Consumption is access-based and readers rent a book for as long they need it and only pay for its temporary use.
In order to appeal to users looking for the tactile experience of a print book, e-books could tap into what makes a print book stand out. Helm suggested possible additions like integrated soundscapes of pages turning to evoke the feel of a print book.
“Many people talked about the smell of a new book and how it feels, the crispness of the pages when they turn them," Helm said, "the sound it makes like a crack when you open it first. There’s all these senses that are involved when you have a physical book, and so technologically maybe there are some ways to emulate some of these aspects also for digital reading.”
Perhaps one of Helm’s biggest takeaways from the study was just how passionate people were about the subject.
“It shows that once people really think and reflect about what books mean in their life, there’s an incredible richness of thoughts and memories that come up,” Helm said. “It’s a very involving topic for people.”