A new report from UK market research organization Voxburner, which claims to be “giving you the edge on young consumers,” and cited by The Guardian, claims that “62 percent of 16-24s prefer books as physical products.” Which it does – as far as that goes. But as it happens, it doesn’t go that far. And much of how far it does go doesn’t actually get from the Voxburner survey to the Guardian article.

young adults“There is less affection towards electronic versions of books. Whereas age is shown in the spine of each book – and commitment by the size of one’s bookshelf – digital files have no distinguishing characteristic,” Voxburner points out. Not much to argue with there, true: I can’t remember the last time I ran my finger down the spine of an ePub file. But there is one little qualifying factor about the survey that surprisingly doesn’t make it through to the Guardian article: “Considering 62% prefer physical books, 45% of those surveyed don’t own a device that can read ebooks – this includes both e-readers and smartphones. It’s possible that young people haven’t experienced the format, or still have some warming up to do.”

Oops. So, in fact, 45 percent of this survey which is supposed to dislike ebooks has never in fact used them? Well, that’s a little bit of a problem for a representative poll isn’t it?

Also, the way in which the key question was couched doesn’t actually indicate unimpeachable impartiality. “When asked which products currently available for download were preferred as physical objects, 62% agreed with books,” states Voxburner. Is that quite the same as saying, as The Guardian claims, that they “prefer traditional books over their digital equivalents.” I might agree with the Voxburner sample, if there was an option to get every book I ever downloaded as a paper copy. Would I do that if I had to pay up printed book copies for all of them? Including all those I downloaded from Project Gutenberg or from Amazon’s Top 100 Free titles? Or if I had to store them all and could no longer pack the entire library into my smartphone or tablet? No longer quite the same story, is it? And I suspect that young adults and students, on tight budgets and in tight accommodation, would have much bigger problems with those two issues than I would. Not to mention that it isn’t really a choice for the 45 percent of the poll who couldn’t use the ebooks because they have nothing to download them on anyway.

Still, see where this appears in The Guardian, and it’s no surprise: It’s in the hands of the same Liz Bury already fingered for partial – in every sense – reporting on other publishing surveys that could be tilted to feed an anti-Amazon and anti-ebook animus. And to judge from the comments below her article, she has hungry mouths to nourish.

If only e-books only ever achieve a marginalised footnote to physical books then I will be extremely happy,” says one. “I suspect however that the malevolent leviathans of commerce will want to exploit the e-market in books to its full potential of advertising revenue and an enslaved and dependent customer base. For e-books to succeed financially the market in real books must be destroyed.” 

Whew. Well, they say hell lies in the comments column. Looks like it just opened its mouth. Thanks, Liz Bury, for shoveling what it feeds on.


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