Books are beautiful things. Even in this day and age, where streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime with their vast array of movies and tv series, books hold a special place in my heart. And I am not the only one that seems to think this way. A study conducted by Pew Research Center showed that as recent as 2019, “72% of U.S. adults […] have read a book in within the past year.” Better yet, this study showed that reading in general “has been relatively steady since 2016”. However, with the rise of digital means, the following question arose for me: are printed books still being read? Looking at my own apartment, books are almost everywhere; from the big bookshelf in the living room to recipe books in the kitchen, not to mention the stack of all-time favorites next to the nightstand. But, when I look around, not many people are like me in this aspect: some of my friends own zero books, except for mandatory study books… My family members own all different kind of e-book readers. My aunt even swears by her beloved Kindle: she can store all of her favorites in one place. Are printed books out of fashion? Will printed books survive the test of time with digitalization?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of printed books versus e-readers:
According to The Print Authority, there are several categories tied to the comparing factors. Firstly, the expense factor: printed books are far more expensive than e-books, seeing as there are no printing costs when it comes to e-books. However, e-books are not ‘owned’ by their reader in the same way as the printed counterpart. E-book purchases are linked to a buyer’s account. If the account, for whatever reason, would be shut down, all e-books stored in that account would simply vanish.
In terms of practicality, printed books can be read as long as there is a source of light available. E-books have the functionality of being read in the dark, thanks to the light of the screen, but they need to be charged, hence the name ‘electronic’. However, avid book readers do mention that reading books off of an e-reader causes strain of the eyes. A con of e-books that I have come across, is that of changing page numbers. I have read several books through electronic devices, especially ‘hard to come by’ books required for linguistic or literature studies. My electronic versions, however, had differentiating page numbers when compared to the professor’s printed version. This has caused me much time, as I needed to figure out which chapter we were discussing during class…
Reading comprehension, many studies have shown, was and still is best when reading printed books. With less distractions such as scrolling, as well as (generally) reading slower, all contribute to remembering and retaining the words.
Lastly, which one of the two would come out on top when it comes to their (negative) impact on the environment? Printed books, obviously, are made of paper, therefore trees are being cut, which has a massive impact on the environment. Myreadingworld.com states that 62.5 books can be produced from a single tree. That is a low number. However, not all books that are being read worldwide are brand-new. Printed books are much easier to recycle and re-use: examples where these recycled versions can be found are second-hand bookstores and libraries. What is remarkable, is that e-books are much less environmentally friendly to produce than their printed counterparts due to the amount of carbon used in production. In fact, to make an e-book more environmentally conscious than a hard-copy book; studies show you need to read between twenty and one hundred books on it. However, storage space on an e-book is much less challenging than for printed books. The average storage space on an e-reader lies between 3000 and 15000 books (on a Kindle e-reader, that is), depending on the number of gigabytes of storage you buy, of course. Another pro of e-readers is that not only readable books can be bought and read.
Another pro of e-readers is that not only readable books can be bought and read. Audiobooks can also be stored on an e-reader (provided the owner has enough GB’s to store them), and boy, have they risen in popularity! According to business2community.com, “an estimated 131 million people listened to an audiobook in 2021”. A whopping 75% of Americans listen to some form of spoken word audio each month, better yet; 43% of the American population listens daily. Many people opt for audiobooks, seeing as they are easier in use than books or e-books: you can listen wherever you are or during whatever you are doing. At the gym, while cooking dinner, on the commute to the office, etcetera…
Even though audiobooks seem to be the future, they are still behind e-books and printed books, in terms of the percentage of U.S. citizens having read (or listened) in the previous year, in accordance with the same study stated above: where (strictly) printed books were read by 65% of U.S. citizens, 25% of citizens read (strictly) e-books, only 20% listened to an audiobook in 2019.
What does need to be mentioned, even though printed books are still immensely popular, libraries are closing left, right and center. Since 2010, Britain has closed more than 800 libraries nationwide, according to The Guardian. However, this does not necessarily have to do with a decline in reading (because there virtually isn’t a decline to speak of). Budget and funding cuts by the government were the biggest culprits mentioned in the article.
I guess it could be argued that ‘real’ printed books are not going out of fashion any time soon, after looking at the statistics. However, their digitalized counterparts (whichever media a person would prefer) are gaining momentum. Only time will tell which of the three options will prevail in the end, although I do believe that the long and rich history of printed books tells us that they are far from over!