Score Another One for Physical Books

Josie Leavitt - August 31, 2015

Another article came out last week extolling the benefits of reading books, actual books with real pages. This comes as no surprise to me. MIC.COM ran the article summing up the studies that have been conducted. The benefits of reading not on a device can be easily summed up: readers remember more, can concentrate better, and are more empathetic than readers who use an e-reader. That people are still studying this surprises me. These gains seem obvious to me. 
The pleasure of reading an actual book is largely found in the pages, the real paper pages. The pages that smell like books, and this makes people surreptitiously sniff their books when no one is looking. The feeling of the paper between your fingers as you ready to turn the page is one that never gets old for me. Holding the paper is so much more satisfying than flicking your finger on a screen (at least that’s how I feel). I think the tactile aspect of reading a physical book helps with memory as there is more for your brain to hold on to.
Concentration is better with a book versus a device. I suspect part of this is because so many devices come with the internet and it’s so easy to leave your reading to go look something up and get sucked into the black hole of Google searches and checking social media to see what your friends had for lunch. 400 students were interviewed about their concentration level while reading, and 92-94% of them said “I concentrate best when I read print.” This statement makes the bookseller in me very happy. If we can keep people under 25 engaged with books then perhaps all bookstores are in stronger positions than we think. It’s easy to feel under attack from all the news that e-readers will be the death of books. But, if young people feel the value of reading physical books, then perhaps it will all be okay.
Lastly, the empathy issue with books is enormous. People were studied reading an upsetting story as a book or on iPad, and the book readers showed greater empathy. Again, this feels very important to me for children. If reading a physical book increases empathy, why would anyone want their kids to read any other way?
The ancillary benefit to reading a real book is love. Yes, love. Why? Because it’s easier to strike up a conversation with a cute stranger if he/she is reading a book that you loved and you can actually see the title. And who can’t fall for a stranger talking about a beloved book?

6 thoughts on “Score Another One for Physical Books

  1. Cresson

    It’s so true. Commuting by bus, I am always reading covers to see what others are reading. One time I was surprised to learn that the guy next to me was reading the same book on his Kindle. How would I know? He read my book cover!
    Although books are often heavy, I never have to worry about batteries running low! Somehow I don’t think that I could entertain myself as well with a book on a computer device. I love to check the page total, read dedications, introductions, and afterwards, and flip ahead to the end of the chapter for a stopping point. Somehow, even if a device enabled me to search for a character by name, I would still prefer to turn back and read the passage again.
    Call me old-fashioned and perhaps it reverts to my days as a library page, but I just like real books not fake ones!!

  2. oliver optic

    For God’s sake will all you hipsters get over this physical vs EBook pissing contest? Oh I can touch and smell it, its, it’s so tactile (and I hate that word as much as viral), it has real paper. Can’t we just all celebrate people reading? Why do you have to have your form of reading be so superior. The next time you see one of those clips of Charlton Heston with a gun in his hand saying ‘From my cold, dead hands’ imagine yourself with a book. That is how ridiculous you all are.

    1. Josie Leavitt

      You are forgetting one major point: I own a bookstore that only sells books with real paper, not electronic books. So every little study about the real benefits of reading physical books that might help keep all bookstores open is something I’m going to celebrate.
      The shift to e-readers has had a fairly profound effect on all bricks and mortar stores. I can tell you when customers have gotten an e-reader because they don’t shop at the bookstore anymore, or not nearly as often. So, you can feel free to call me a hipster, but from my seat in the book world, celebrating the physical book just makes good business sense.

  3. Sarah J

    I can see both sides of the issue. While I agree that having people reading is definitely the goal we want to accomplish, I can see how people making a switch to e-readers would definitely hurt brick and mortar stores.
    In our school (pre-K – 12th) we offer ebooks through Overdrive, but I also add an average of sixty print books every single month. My middle school students flock to the print books, my upper school students check out the ebooks. I noticed when I started working here five years ago that the older students weren’t checking out books, no matter how many book talks I did that made them laugh, or how many events I hosted to drum up interest. In the end, I learned that they’re busy; they have a ton of assigned reading for classes, music, sports, theater, etc. and feel guilty for checking out something they know they’ll hardly read in two weeks and end up returning late because they forgot they had it. They all have iPads (we’re a 1:1 school) and it’s easy for them to check a book out on that. They can read it in a free moment and when the two weeks are up, they don’t have to worry about returning it and can check it out again at their own time. My upper school reading statistics have tripled since we started the ebook program. I consider that a win!
    As for myself, I read from both formats. I like reading from print, I enjoy flipping back and finding a passage or referring to a character I’ve forgotten; that is very difficult to do on an ereader (it usually involves bookmarking the page I’m on and then skipping back through a ton of pages…). However, when we went to Japan for two weeks this summer, I loaded up my iPad with ebooks and read three on the flight there and three on the flight back. That’s six books I did not have to haul around in my increasingly heavy suitcase, some of which were only available in hardcover in print.
    I think it’s a shame there are people who drop the print format completely once they buy an ereader. In fact, I find that a little odd as well, all of the readers I’ve talked to on the subject (co-workers, friends and fellow librarians) all say they use both. I think the world is moving increasingly towards a society that embraces both, at least that’s what I hope and promote as a librarian today.

  4. Ted Montgomery

    I think you are right about this, as I have experienced this very thing with the smell and feel. I do read mostly with my trusty iPad now, but have an old copy of “The Fountainhead” nearby which is a treasure. The convenience of traveling to warm climates with an iPad is hard to beat – but this is a lousy excuse.
    Keep writing Josie and Elizabeth – you both are treasures!

  5. James S.

    It’s the content not the container. Yes, you have a vested interest in physical print books. We get that.
    However, with the average cost of books now typically over $30 for a hardcover and $10 for a paperback (and that’s adult fiction… kids and YA tend to be more) I’m not sure how much longer people are going to be able to justify buying physical books.


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