92% of college students prefer print books to e-books, study finds

College students overwhelmingly said in a survey that they prefer reading print books to e-books.

College students overwhelmingly said in a survey that they prefer reading print books to e-books.

(Emilio Ereza / Getty Images)

If you imagine millennials are just young people entranced by their cellphones or tablet computers, you might want to think again. According to a new study, 92% of college students would rather do their reading the old-fashioned way, with pages and not pixels.

The finding comes from American University linguistics professor Naomi S. Baron, author of the book “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” Baron led a team that asked 300 college students in the United States, Slovakia, Japan and Germany how they preferred to read.

Physical books were the choice of 92% of the respondents, who selected paper over an array of electronic devices.

Steven Hernandez, a student at Arizona State University is among those who prefer reading the real McCoy over files on a gadget. “I believe that the possibility and likelihood of distraction is too high when it comes to online learning tools like textbooks,” he wrote in an op-ed for his student newspaper. “The upside to e-books is the low price and the user interaction that it enables, but it requires integration and education of the technology being used — integration that students like myself are not accustomed to.”


The main reasons students preferred paper books, Baron told the New Republic, were the lack of distractions that are available on computers, as well as the headaches and eye strain that can result from staring at a screen.

“When I asked what they don’t like about reading on a screen — they like to know how far they’ve gone in the book,” Baron said. “You can read at the bottom of the screen what percent you’ve finished, but it’s a totally different feel to know you’ve read an inch worth and you have another inch and a half to go.”

And then there are the aspects of the reading experience that computers just can’t replicate (yet) -- Slovakian students in particular noted that they liked the smell of books.

It’s not just college students who’d rather spend their time with a book instead of an e-reader. In 2015, e-book sales dropped in the United States, and it’s the same story in the United Kingdom.

For those who want to read more about how people are reading in the age of computers, Baron’s book “Words Onscreen” is available from Oxford University Press. You can also download it to your Kindle for $9.99.