May 31, 2016

Subscribe to SLJ

Eight Reasons Why Print Trumps Digital for Reading


Given the focus on ebooks these days, could old-fashioned print books provide a superior reading experience? Actually, yes—especially for young children whose literacy skills are just beginning to emerge. Here are eight reasons to keep recommending traditional books:

1. No need to make choices. Lacking hyperlinks, paper books enable total immersion in reading—no need to continually pause and ask, “Should I click on this?”

2. No distractions within the text. Research suggests that the visual and aural gimmicks and game-like features embedded in many kids’ ebooks draw young readers’ attention from the written words, diminishing their memory of what was read.

3. No Internet temptations. The only thing you can do with a paper book is read it, while with Web-enabled ereaders, the temptations of the Internet are a click away.

4. Imagination required. Without the bells and whistles of ebooks, young readers must mobilize their own imaginations to fill in the gaps left by authors and illustrators: what a character looks like, for example, or the sound an animal makes.

5. Satisfaction of the senses. The smooth feel of paper and the rich colors of illustrations are largely lost in ebook reproductions. The distinctiveness of the reading experience is reduced, as well—such as when an oversized picture book is squeezed down to the size of an ereader screen.

6. Literary attitudes. Children accustomed to using digital devices for fast-paced entertainment may approach an ereader with the same expectations, while a printed book comes with an entirely different set of associations: a quiet focus on words and stories.

7. Easy to share. A printed book lends itself to being shared by children and adults, while an ebook may not be shared quite so easily. Research suggests that parents reading ebooks with their children are less likely to stop and ask questions or make comments, and more likely to issue commands (“Swipe the page now,” “Don’t touch that button!”).

8. Strong selection. The number of quality children’s books published in paper still vastly outnumbers those available in a digital format. Research suggests that the ebooks selected most often by children and parents are more akin to movies than to books, and thus of dubious value in promoting emerging literacy.

This article was published in School Library Journal's July 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

TechKnowledgeTechKnowledge, SLJ's monthly newsletter, provides the latest news and best practices around technology for librarians. From maker spaces and robotics to coding education, TechKnowledge covers up-to-the minute trends and provides critical context and practical tips to help our readers make the most of technology in their work with kids and teens. Each issue includes SLJ’s award-winning features, reviews, and industry coverage. Content exclusive to TechKnowledge: A special section featuring grants, and other opportunities, as well as a selection of curated links.


  1. Great piece and precise summary!
    We are working a lot on the subject, observing children using both digital readers and books. In order to enjoy and understand a story, a child needs to focus. Digital readers are “de-focusing” devices. The simple expectation that you can do multiple things with them makes it very hard to focus on the story.

    I think it works the same way for adults: once you open a browser the possibilities are so endless that you are likely to end up doing not what you intended to do.

  2. I love to read ebooks on my phone. It is always with me, whether I am at home, or walking up the stairs to the office, or standing in line at the grocery store. All great times to snatch a few minutes to read. It is portable, nothing extra to carry with me, and I can fit a whole library on there. I can be reading several books at once, including something aloud to my kiddo, and never have to remember which book to take when I’m leaving the house.

    And while I’m running or commuting on my bike, there are audiobooks. Hours and hours of audiobooks.

    Don’t worry about the temptation to surf internet or play angry birds. Don’t worry about my lack of imagination. I’m too busy reading.

  3. Marie Miller says:

    I came to this article as the beginning did seem to emphasize eBooks in reference to young children. Does anyone have any article references to studies on eBooks or eTextbooks and elementary age students?