E-books have a place in our lives, but as popular as digital media has become for news publishing, people still love to own physical books. According to the Association of American Publishers’ 2019 annual report, last year sales of print books totaled $22.6 billion and e-books sales totaled $2.04 billion.
While the numbers sort of surprised me, I understand why people love to own physical books. Readers have an innate emotional and sensory experience with a physical book that e-books cannot match.
Physical books build memories and relationships. A book on an appropriate topic given to commemorate a life event makes a thoughtful gift that will remind the recipient of the day and the giver for years to come. When I pick up an old book with a personal note and the date written on the inside of the cover, I feel a wash of fondness for the person who gave it to me. Physical books build bonds between adults and children too. There is nothing quite like having a child sit in your lap and turn the pages as you read a story together, taking time to run your fingers over pretty pictures and enjoy how the illustrations compliment the story or relate to your own lives.
Coffee table books, lush with beautiful photographs, are as much a piece of home decor as a lamp or figurine. The books displayed in a home make a statement about the people living there and help them enjoy their passions.
The physical nature of printed books offer more flexibility. You can loan a printed book to a friend, but an e-book can only be used on your account so you can't lend it unless you care to share your account credentials. Print books also provide more flexibility for adding your own notations. You can jot notes in the margins, and use symbols and drawings on paper. The ability to notate is very limited in an e-book where you can only highlight lines, bookmark pages, and add some notes.
In an era when so much of life is lived through a screen, a physical book is a break from cold technology and some of it's effects on our health. Numerous studies have found that reading an e-book before bedtime decreases the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps a person sleep. Melatonin signals are sent through the brain in response to darkness. According to Frisca Yan-Go, who served as director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center in Santa Monica California, light-emitting devices tell the brain to stay alert.
There have also been studies demonstrating that reading on paper instead of an electronic screen is better for memory retention and focus. Anne Mangen, a Norwegian scholar, tested students on their recall and comprehension of a short story read on paper versus the story read on an electronic device.The students who read e-books did not do as well on the tests. Kate Garland, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England, conducted a study in which psychology students read economics information over the two formats. The study revealed two differences. First, more repetition was required with computer reading to understand and retain the same information. Second, the physical book readers seemed to digest the material more fully. It took more time and more repeated testing for the electronic readers to know the material.
All of these points don't mean that I am unappreciative of the benefits of technology. I simply also enjoy the benefits of the written word on paper. Apparently the majority of other folks feel that way too.