Fact Check: 92% of College Students Prefer Paper Books Over eBooks
Sorry, technophiles. While the world may be going digital, when it comes to reading, regular books are here to stay.
In a new study conducted by American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron, researchers have found that an overwhelming majority of students prefer physical books — you know, with covers and paper — over e-books for serious reading.
For the study, Baron surveyed over 300 university students from the U.S., Japan, Germany and Slovakia about their reading preferences. When given options between physical books and electronic reading devices, 92% of students said they could concentrate best with physical books.
I read this when NBC News dug it up a a few days ago, and gave it a pass.
Not to sound like a naysayer, but I found a few problems with this story. The survey is actually a couple years old, and what you’re reading in the news is far less nuanced than what the survey report actually said.
This tidbit of information is pulled from Dr Naomi Baron’s book, Words Onscreen, which was published in January 2015 (NBC News’s source was actually an interview in The New Republic from last January). Baron argues in this book that "the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks":
Users are easily distracted by other temptations on their devices, multitasking is rampant, and screens coax us to skim rather than read in-depth. What is more, if the way we read is changing, so is the way we write.
I own a copy of Words Onscreen, of course, and from what I can see in the book, the factoid being passed around today is merely one detail from a small survey conducted in 2013.
There’s far too much detail for me to quote it all, but it is there if you want to read it.
Edit: Dr Baron showed up in the comments, and clarified what the 92% meant: "What I actually said was that 92% of students in my survey said they concentrated best when reading in print. My survey never asked about overall personal preference."
She went on to add that more recent survey data showed a similar result: "I now have 429 university students surveyed, spread over 5 countries (the US, Japan, Germany, Slovakia, and India). The last data were collected in Spring 2015," she commented. "The final overall results are resoundingly similar to what was reported in my book, Words Onscreen: 92% say it’s easiest to concentrate when reading print. Moreover, 87% say that if cost were the same, they would prefer print for schoolwork."
Some might argue that the survey is invalid because tech is a topic that shifts quickly, and that the half-life of a consumer survey can be as little as a year, but frankly digital textbooks are in almost the exact same place now as in 2013. (As Dr Baron’s proved in the edited comment above.)
Digital textbook tech hasn’t changed that much in three years, so even though college students have a 100% turnover every three years or so, students today are using many of the same tools as in 2013.
I still don’t like the size of the survey group, though. 300 students spread across four countries is simply too small for any meaningful conclusions, IMO.
What do you think of this survey?
image by UBC