The Guardian has an interesting essay by a teen writer from the Guardian children’s books site entitled “Why teenagers are so resistant to e-readers.” (The writer posts under a handle and doesn’t give a gender, so I’m just going to assume she’s female so I can use a pronoun that looks less awkward than “they”.) It’s interesting enough, but when you read the thing, it’s actually kind of mistitled. It could better have been called “Why this teenager still loves paper books.”
She’s not even necessarily resistant to e-readers herself—she spends a paragraph singing the praises of the Kindle for being able to store so many books in such a small space. But then she calls attention to a recent survey showing that 16-24-year-olds prefer paper books—64% directly preferred print books, and 20% didn’t mind them.
People have their different reasons for this. For me personally, one of the many reasons I’m still more than happy to splurge most of my money in Waterstones is not only the smell of new books (intoxicating though that is), but also the feeling of actually holding a book, and being able to actually have a page turner. You can’t smell a Kindle – you’re holding plastic – and tapping an e-ink screen to turn a page isn’t really the same being able to turn a page.
Beyond that, she says, the assumption that everything modern teens do is filtered through digital media is precisely that—an assumption. It doesn’t necessarily hold true for everyone, and there’s still plenty of room for respecting tradition.
That’s all very well and good, but really, the article doesn’t do a whole lot to suggest why teens are showing such a marked preference for paper books. Individual preference is one thing, but for such a majority to prefer print instead of e-books? It puts me in mind of those Apple Jacks cereal commercials that used to air, in which some confused adult asked kids why they liked Apple Jacks when they don’t actually taste like apples. The answer was invariably, “We just do!” (As if kids needed a reason for liking anything with that much sugar in it!)
Why does the kid who wrote this article prefer printed books? She just does. (Well, she cites the smell of books, but I still have a hard time imagining we’ve raised an entire younger generation who goes around huffing books the way they used to sniff tubes of model glue.) I could make sweeping generalizations, such as a rebellion against the preferences of the older generation who’ve taken to Kindles like ducks to water, or perhaps after staring at screens all day at school and for social networking they want to take a break and stare at words that are fixed in place on their pages. Maybe they want to make their limited allowance money stretch further, and aren’t happy about how many new-release e-books cost more than the print version. But there’s no guarantee those guesses would necessarily be accurate either.
Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to consider that the next generation of readers apparently overwhelmingly prefers to read in print, which can only be taken as a boon to the Big Five publishers who’re putting so many of their eggs in the print book basket. But I wonder what the teens of ten years from now will prefer?