prefer paper books

8 Reasons Readers Prefer Paper Books to Digital Books

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

August 18, 2022

Walk into any thrift store, and you’ll see that sales of used hardbacks and paperbacks are brisk. Similarly, online booksellers like Abe’s Books do a steady trade in antique books and used mass-market paperbacks. It turns out that people still prefer paper books to digital ones by a wide margin.

American Readers Prefer Paper Books

In a 2022 report, the Association of American Publishers found that sales of digital books had barely made a dent in the popularity of paper books. Digital books make up about 20% to 30% of all book sales.

The survey found that:

  • 72% of Americans read at least one book last year
  • 37% say they only read paper books
  • 25% read both digital and paper books
  • Only 7% read e-books exclusively
  • 66% said paper books offer a more fulfilling experience

Here are some more facts about paper books vs digital when it comes to book sales:

  • Paper books outsell digital books at a rate of 4:1
  • Sales of paper books have increased by 21%
  • Sales of e-books have decreased by 8%
  • Fewer people own e-book readers now than the number who did in 2014

British Readers Also Prefer Paper Books

The United Kingdom, like the United States, is a country full of readers. In a 2021 study by Oxfam, the leading thrift store charity, more than two-thirds of readers said they will always choose a paper book over a digital one if they have the choice.

The study also found:

  • Almost 50% said they preferred physically turning the pages of paper books
  • Another 42% said they liked the way books feel in their hands
  • 25% said they liked the way paper books smell
  • Only 16% said they prefer digital books

Besides those physical sensations, 32% of readers said it was easier to become immersed in the story when reading a paper book.

Why People Still Choose Paper Books vs Digital Books

Why do people still prefer paper books? If you talk to avid readers, you’ll discover that there are many reasons for this. They range from the practical to the emotional.

Books feel good

The top reason people give for preferring paper books is the way these books feel. The tactile sensations of holding a book, smelling the ink, turning the pages, and progressing from one page to the next all create an enjoyable experience that no digital book can match. Many survey respondents talked about the way books smell. To them, there is something comforting and nostalgic about that smell.

Books look good

Many book lovers find books physically beautiful. If you pick up a so-called coffee table book, it’s easy to see why. No digital experience can match the enjoyment of turning those heavy pages and seeing one gorgeous photograph or illustration after another.

Children’s books are known for their wonderful illustrations, but books for adults often have lovely covers, fonts, and internal layouts. All these elements go into creating books that look good on a table or a shelf.

They’re better for kids

Parents know one of the best things they can do for their kids is read to them. They help kids learn while bonding over the turned pages of a picture book. You can’t do that with a digital book.

Babies and children learn better when learning from paper books vs digital books. Paper books improve interactions between parents or teachers and children. These interactions have strong effects on children’s ability to learn and develop good social skills. Reading together is more enjoyable when you touch the same pages.

Paper books are better for your health

Many of us are aware of the dangers of excessive use of electronics. Your phone and computer have “nighttime screens” that turn dark at night for a reason. They are trying to protect you from excessive amounts of blue light, which is the light emitted by phones, TV, and computer screens.

Too much blue light can interfere with your ability to sleep, and it can lead to fatigue, depression, and loss of alertness. Paper books, however, are safe to read at bedtime or any time. A study by Harvard Medical School found that reading paper books can help you fall asleep safely. Paper books also improve learning and language skills.

They’re better for the environment

Paper books are produced using sustainable resources. They are recyclable and usually end up in yard sales or thrift stores rather than landfills. Discarded e-readers, on the other hand, produce toxic waste. They also take more carbon to produce than paper books.

Bookmarking is easier

Many people find digital bookmarks difficult to use. They are never quite where you left off. It’s also difficult to go back and re-read a particular line or passage just by flipping back a page or two. A simple bookmark in a paper book, however, is a simple, low-tech solution that always works.

They’re convenient

A physical book is easy to take with you on the road or in the air. It doesn’t have to be charged, and you can read it anywhere, even if the power goes out. It’s easy to slip a paperback into your pocket, purse, or tote bag when you’re getting on an airplane or heading to the pool, and you don’t have to worry about damaging any sensitive equipment. You just grab it and go.

Books increase retention

Studies have found that people retain information better when they read it in a paper book. They retain it even better if they take longhand notes about it. In fact, 85% of college educators say old-fashioned note taking by hand is the best way to learn, and 81% of college students supplement their classwork with flashcards, printouts, and other printed materials.

Does paper have some magical quality? No, but researchers think that making a connection between what you read and what you touch helps reinforce learning. Reading a paper book improves your ability to memorize key facts.

Writers Prefer Paper Books

It’s easy to get rapturous about books, and many writers do. They’re the ones who produce them, so it’s natural they would have a lot to say about the joys of reading. Here are some famous writers expressing what they love about paper books.

“A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it, or offer your own version in return.” – Salman Rushdie

“I love the smell of book ink in the morning.” – Umberto Eco

“Books are good company in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” – E.B. White

“I love books. I adore everything about them. I love the feel of the pages on my fingertips. They are light enough to carry, yet so heavy with words and ideas. I love the sound of the pages flicking against my fingers. Print against fingerprints. Books make people quiet, and yet they are so loud.” –Nnedi Okarfor

“A book is a dream you hold in your hands.” – Neil Gaiman

“I have always imagined paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

Print Books Are Here to Stay

Book publishing is a thriving business, and print books make up most of those sales. Printed books are going strong, and most readers still prefer them to digital or audio books. If you’re interested in getting your book into print, contact Publishing Xpress.


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