What the Papers Say

tumblr_lptmh1EY1E1r1sle6o1_500A number of press reports this week have set me thinking about just how much faith we can ever put in statistics. Two days ago there was an article in my morning paper claiming that for the first time the sales of e-books had surpassed that of paper formats. And yet, over the weekend, that same journal had published the results of a survey that suggested that more than fifty percent of children under the age of eighteen vastly preferred what we might call a hard copy of a book to its digital equivalent. The reasons given were, I thought, telling. Reflecting the age in which we live, the fact that, whether legal or not, music and films in their digital formats having once been bought can then be passed on to friends while books cannot, was high on the list of motives for preferring ‘the real thing’. Wanting to share a story well told and thoroughly enjoyed is, thank goodness, still an important attribute of being a reader. However, other reasons given included such goodies as enjoying the smell of a new book, having the ‘trophy’ of a full book shelf and being able to see the creases in the spine of a book when it has been read.

This came back into my mind today because two of my seven godchildren are each celebrating their birthday. It won’t come as a surprise to any of you that all my godchildren (and all my other friends, for that matter) know better than to expect anything other than reading related birthday presents when they open my gifts.  I do, however, have the good grace to enquire what kind of book related product they would prefer and these two differ.  The elder of the two, now in her middle thirties and living in France always wants a book.  If I should happen to buy her something she has already read then that is a problem she is prepared to live with but as she infrequently buys books for herself and doesn’t have a particularly good library service nearby, this rarely happens.  This year I’ve sent her a copy of The Goldfinch.   I normally send her something from the Orange/Woman’s/Baileys’ short list.  Last year it was Life After Life and the year before Instructions for a Heatwave.  In fact the three eldest (all in their middle thirties) and the two youngest (still in primary school) all want books.  They like the thrill of tearing open the parcel and discovering what is inside.  The ten and eleven year olds may change as they grow older but at the moment they want the book itself.

The middle two, a brother and sister who are in their early twenties and both still at university, prefer tokens. That, however, is as far as the similarity goes.  The lass, (twenty-one today!) wants ‘a proper book token’.  She must be one of the few people in her age group who doesn’t own any form of e-reader by choice.  It won’t surprise you to know that she is studying sustainability and has already spent a year working in a small South American village a sixteen hour journey by boat from the nearest working telephone.

Her brother, on the other hand, who chose to spend his gap year in Tokyo, is as IT savvy as they come.  For him it has to be tokens that he can use for digital purposes and in fact he was the one who first pointed out to me (almost diplomatically) that such things were available.

As far as my own preferences go I’m with the middle two.  I much prefer tokens that I can go and spend on something I’ve been desperate to read but haven’t been able either to afford or to persuade the local library service to buy.  What I find really interesting, however, in the light of the two surveys I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is that even if we discount the two youngest who are still at the stage when a token of any sort would definitely not cut the mustard, four out of five of these readers, who have all very much grown up with the digital age, still prefer real books in one form or another.  I don’t know about you, but even though I own and use an e-reader when it is convenient, I find that very encouraging.

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25 thoughts on “What the Papers Say

  1. “I only believe in statistics that I doctored myself”. – Nothing beats books. If I see all those books in my library more than 100 years old and think of the imcopatibility of computer file formats just after some few years …

  2. I do read on my eReader often but I also like the physical copy, it does feel more like reading from a real book, although that statement sounds a bit silly! I always buy books for gifts although I did buy my best (reading) friend a gift voucher for her eReader this year and enclosed a list of recommendations that I couldn’t loan her as they were on my eReader. Interesting survey results!

    1. I use an e-reader when I’m travelling simply because one book is never enough and I have a back problem. But otherwise I find myself using it less and less.

  3. It is encouraging to think ‘real’ books are preferred. My grandchildren like them too – I see them reading them more than e-books. I must ask them which they prefer! As for me, when I’m reading a heavy book in a small font or I’m trying to find the first time someone is mentioned I wish I had an e-copy, and then when I’m reading an e-copy I miss the feel of a book.

    1. My e-reader is a godsend when I have to travel because I have back problems. I also have to use it for anything that has over 600 pages because the real copy is too thick and heavy for the reading stand I have to use. So I would never want to condemn them. But I am glad to see that so many of my younger friends are still in love with the real thing.

    1. We should not be surprised at the survival of the printed book – an almost perfect technology. I just wish UK books were more nicely bound and printed. The Everyman series, if a little pedestrian in design, show that well printed and bound books need not cost a fortune.

      1. Books have survived almost unaltered for centuries, haven’t they Ian, and that should tell us something about how practical they are. But you’re right, they should be beautiful as well as practical and I agree, too few of our publishers take that into account.

  4. I am all for the joys of reading books in whichever format pleases you best, or suits the needs of the moment. However, when Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP we tried switching to another (free!) system which is supposed to be compatible with Word, and it is, but there are little niggles which I have to work around or put up with. None of these are big problems at all, but it has totally put me off the idea of e-books for anything other than ephemera. Paper books are rather more of a constant than files on a device which will need to be updated. So I hope that they continue to be produced.

    1. And files can also be corrupted, Helen. One thing that does worry me is the thought that someone might hack into an e-book and change it for her/his own purpose. Once the real thing is out there you really can’t do that.

  5. Statistics lie all the time especially when it comes to ebooks. I’d trust your personal experience over the numbers any day! Ebooks are popular, I read them myself as you know, but I’ve also seen numbers that show print books sales overall continue to be ahead of digital sales. I’ve also seen plenty of articles that indicate children and students much prefer print books to digital. I imagine the truth is in there somewhere but the tech evangelists and the publishing industry isn’t going to be forthcoming about what it might be.

    1. Oh yes, we all know about the relationship between statistics and damn lies, Stefanie. And, if I’m honest I’m just very glad that all of my godchildren really enjoy reading and that the five great-godchildren (if such a concept exists) are all equally enthusiastic.

  6. What a heartwarming post! It’s a delight to hear that your godchildren are so happy to have books as presents. As for ebooks, I’m still wedded to paper partly because i have so many unread on my shelves but also because I can imagine only too easily building up a digital TBR pile which might end up out of sight, out of mind.

    1. That does happen, Susan. I have had a habit of downloading without thinking about it and then forgetting the book is there. I do use an ereader when I’m out and about but only because my back problem precludes me from carrying anything heavier than a small paper back. If you’re trying to get through the latest 800 page tome it’s the only option.

  7. The only good thing to come out of my son’s recent heartbreak has been his decision to read more. He has no interest in an ereader, though, and only wants to borrow books off me. He is a very tech-y person generally, scientific in outlook and wedded to his laptop, but he has no interest in a kindle although I have offered him one (anything to keep him reading!). ‘If I want to read, I’ll read a book, thanks,’ is all he ever says. I don’t argue, just keep pressing thrillers on him (which is the entertainment of choice).

    1. None of my crowd are thriller readers, which is a great disappointment to me as I enjoy that genre so much. I’ll swap you yours for two of mine. It’s a good deal and only available for the Bank Holiday weekend 🙂

  8. My teenagers still read books when they can tear themselves away from social media. I think they actually find it a relief to find a source of entertainment which doesn’t require a power source!

  9. During the day, I read mostly on the computer through my online library account and my browser. But at night when I read in order to get sleepy and relaxed before night’s out, I always read from a print volume. When I finally get near the end of the print volume and am all excited to finish it, then I do go ahead and read some of it during the day. There’s just something about the feel of a real book….

    1. We have very similar habits, SO. I try very hard not to read from anything other than a print source in the hour before bed, although i have to admit that when I am getting really excited about something on the e-reader it doesn’t always work out that way.

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