Print vs Digital, What do students Prefer?


Ever since e-books arrived on the scene, forecasters have said year after year that it’s only a matter of time before they ultimately edge print books out altogether. It is easy to see why so many people/organizations would make the change from print to digital, but are they making the jump too soon? There are a number of reports that have been carried out that are showing people still prefer print over its digital competitor, so much in fact that almost two thirds of people are happy to pay more for a print copy than an e-book.

Do the students at The University of Wollongong follow the same pattern and prefer print over the digital equivalent? Or have they moved on from the old print medium and embraced the new digital format? That is what I plan to find out in my report.

What do others say?

In 2013 company Hewlett Packard asked a similar question to the students of San Jose State University. Hewlett Packard surveyed a total of 527 students to measure student preference for e-textbooks and printed version.


Of the 527 respondents, two-thirds of which have used both e-textbooks and printed version, 57% said they prefer print over the digital equivalent, whereas only 21% of those polled favoured the e-version. The remaining 21% stated that they preferred both formats.

The survey also revealed the reasons the students preferred print. “Ease of use” coming in at number one with 54%, “note-taking ability” had 35%, and “physical feel of book” 11%. For those that preferred the e-version, factors cited include “light weight” (34%), “convenient access” (23%) and “search function” (16%). Surprisingly “Cost” was only cited by 15% of the respondents as a factor in purchasing the e-version.

Research by Naomi S. Baron asks the question of the effectiveness of reading on a screen instead of a page. Showing that students are three times more likely to multitask while reading on a digital format and find it much harder to concentrate.  Critical thinking is a major goal in a majority of subjects at UOW so it is important that students are able to do so as easily as possible. The report suggests that instead of deep reading when people read off a screen they tend to hyper read. Which postmodern literary critic, Katherine Hayles defines in her book How We Think, as “a strategic response to an information-intensive environment, aiming to conserve attention by quickly identifying relevant information, so that only relatively few portions of a given text are actually read.”

This is backed up by research carried out at James Madison University, which showed that readers skim eBook pages quickly and repeatedly, while eye-tracking software shows paper books are read line-for-line. The result is that skimming the content of eBooks “takes longer and requires more effort to reach the same level of understanding.”

Why does this matter?

Like many other libraries over the past several years, the UOW Library has begun to offer electronic books to its patrons. The decision to use e-books seems like a relatively easy one as e-books offer a wide variety of advantages over print for the readers and the library. E-books offer 24/7 availability, access outside of the physical library, full text searching, copying and pasting of text and images, require no shelf space or re-shelving and are never lost, damaged, or overdue. Despite these advantages, e-books still must prove their value to collection development librarians in one key factor… Do patrons use them?

How am I going to achieve this?

Firstly, by carrying out a survey asking whether students prefer print or digital books or texts, and secondly, by conducting focus groups discussing the reasons behind their liking one over the other. In other words the survey will ask what students prefer and the focus groups will ask, why? This method of research will give me both quantitative and qualitative results.




Teri Tan. (2014 ). College Students Still Prefer Print Textbooks . Available: Last accessed 28/3/16.

Dr.David Daniel, Dr.Krisztina Jakobsen. (2016). E-textbooks Effectiveness Studied. Available: Last accessed 28/3/16.

Naomi S. Baron. (2015). Why Reading On A Screen Is Bad For Critical Thinking. Available: Last accessed 28/3/16.


4 thoughts on “Print vs Digital, What do students Prefer?

  1. Dimitri Lignos

    Nice work! This was an enjoyable read and you have seemed to research this topic extensively. Your methodology of surveys and focus groups seems fitting for this research assignment and will get you a nice range of results. For the focus group, maybe try and include a range of people, from age to gender, to get a wider spread of results. Good Job!


  2. orichh

    Hey Hayden,
    Great research topic! My suggestions is that you make your research question more straight forward. Also once you have conducted your research and have survey results it would be great to see them compared to other results such as the survey above of San Jose State University 🙂



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