That question — Why do teens prefer print to ebook? — has been in the topic of many conversations I’ve had with authors and parents over the last year. It’s a fact that has intrigued me, given how tech driven this young generation is. Why are they on their devices almost 24/7, but when it comes to books, they want to turn physical pages? Could anything feel more old-fashioned?
I’ve decided there are several good reasons why teens are more likely to read a print book than load up an ereader.
1. Teens view their device as a way to interact with others. Watch a teen pull out their cell phone and what are they likely doing? Texting a friend. Looking something up online. Watching a YouTube video. Playing a multiplayer video game. Snapchatting, Facebooking, Instagramming, Tumblring, etc. Devices are a way to connect to the world.
A book, however, takes you into a different world. Youth want to get lost in that book world, and it’s pretty hard to do that when you’re flipping pages on the screen and notification beeps keep interrupting. The real world, with all its connections, intrudes. The better way to shut off that stream of busyness and get lost in a story is to set aside the device and pick up a print book.
This might be changing with the generation who are toddlers and preschoolers now, because they’ve had more experience reading books on iPads and ereaders. But we’ll see…
2. Teens don’t have credit card accounts to purchase ebooks. And this is a biggie. Because you can’t buy stuff online without a credit or gift card number. My sons have often given me cash for items they want online, which I then buy with my yes-I’m-a-credit-worthy-adult VISA number.
Teens want freedom (understandably), so having to schlep to Mom and Dad every time they want a book on their device and get a credit card number kind of stinks. It’s more freeing to simply check out a book at the library or purchase one at the bookstore.
Parents and grandparents could impact this by having their teens establish book wish lists online and regularly purchasing and sending selections to a teen’s ereader. Also, public libraries have electronic book loans (like Overdrive) which make ebooks more available to teens.
3. Print books make a statement of self-expression. Tell me about your favorite books, and I’ll tell you something about who you are. Carrying a print book can be like a statement of style — conveying to the world around you how you view yourself. No one sees what’s on your ereader, but if you’re carrying around an anime book? A teen angst contemporary? A vampire novel?
Self-expression is a big deal as a teenager, because you’re honing in on who you are, what you like, what you’re about. Showing off what you’re reading can be part of that, and print books do it better.
4. Print books allow teens to identify fellow readers and connect. While carrying around that print book, it’s easy to start conversations with fellow readers. “Oh, I read that!” “Did you like it?” “If you like that one, you should read ___.” We book nerds adore these moments of finding others who love the books we love. We also collect reading recommendations from like-minded readers. Friendships have sparked through noticing what someone else reads and commenting on it. Around the books we read, we build community.
This is especially true for trend books, like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars. If you easily see the book cover in someone’s hands, it’s a conversation starter. However, ebooks are not visible to others, so you lose that opportunity.
5. Parents are more willing to buy print books for their teens. Parents supply quite a few books their teens read. And we know they’re actually reading the book when it’s a print copy in their hands. If a teen is on his/her ereader, who knows what they’re doing? It could be the book; it could be video games; heck, it could be something illegal…
Parents still lean toward putting a print book in their hands of their children, and that means teens are still reading print books.
Do I think the print book > ebook for teens trend is changing? Yes, I do. My teenagers didn’t grow up with iPads in their hands, but this upcoming generation did. Schools are also moving toward using devices for education, including making textbooks available on ereaders, so teens are getting used to reading on screens. Moreover, I believe the book industry will (eventually) find creative ways for young people to buy books without needing credit cards.
BUT I think there will always be room for print books. At least I hope so. Although I use an ereader plenty, I still love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of freshly printed book paper, the crisp flipping sound as I turn pages. I like seeing the spines of my favorite books on my shelves.
Do you prefer print or ebook, and why? Why do you think teenagers still lean toward print books?