Children Still Love Gutenberg’s Gift. Will Paper Books Live Forever?!

Earlier this week, Udemy had the opportunity to interview Aayush Phumbhra, Senior Vice President and Co-Founder of Chegg.  In his interview Mr. Phumbrha pointed out that “the adoption of electronic textbooks is inevitable.”  For textbooks I think this is true and agree.  But recently I read an article on the NY Times about works of literature (as opposed to textbooks).  What I read was a bit surprising: even children of the digital age are not ready to part with paper bound books completely.  It seems that paper bound books still hold some sway in society, even amongst the youngest and most digitized of us.

The NY Times article, Print vs. Digital: Analyzing and Designing Book Apps for Works of Literature, points out that “that while young people are interested in e-readers, two-thirds of them do not want to give up traditional print books.”  Children, it would seem, are ready to embrace e-readers as part of their technology arsenal, but are not quite ready to part with Gutenberg’s gift: the printed book.

In making this claim, the article relies on a study by Scholastic books, the folks that brought you Harry Potter.  Because children have more competition for their attention than ever before, Scholastic sought to learn about the “attitudes and behaviors of parents and children toward reading books for fun in a digital age.”  To their pleasant surprise, they found technology actually offered a possible advantage “[by] introducing books to digitally savvy children through e-readers, computers and mobile devices.”

In sum, children weren’t running away from books.  Rather, their behavior toward how they consumed books had changed.  In the survey of 2,000 children ages 6 -17, “[a]bout 25 percent of the children surveyed said they had already read a book on a digital device, including computers and e-readers. Fifty-seven percent between ages 9 and 17 said they were interested in doing so.”  In its conclusions, the chief academic officer of Scholastic stated that the report was “a call to action.”  Reading wasn’t dead, it had just moved into various formats.

Nonetheless, this survey and it’s conclusions still struck me.  Today’s youth are the most digitized, online, and plugged-in…ever.   They’ve never known a world without a cell phone, video game consoles (handheld or home system) or some form of computer (laptop and/or desktop).   So it’s not surprising that they view the consumption of books through a variety different formats positively.  In fact, that stands to reason -more common sense than anything.

More surprising is that still, “two-thirds of them do not want to give up traditional print books”! Perhaps humanity’s love affair with the paperbound book will diminish as students are taught more and more with electronic devices.  But until that happens, Gutenberg’s genius: the paper printed book will survive.