Surveys have shown that readers, particularly college students, still prefer print. A University of Washington study even found that a quarter of its students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that were available for free.
Researchers have found the location of information on a printed page plays a key role in comprehension. The problem for on-screen reading is that users tend to skim and comprehension suffers because of it, according to Naomi S. Baron, a linguist at American University and author of Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.
“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s quite astounding.”
Online distraction is another issue. Baron found that 90% of the students reported they were more likely to multitask while online. Students also seem to have a lazy streak. Many told her they preferred renting textbooks that have important passages already highlighted and have notes in the margins.
Students do prefer digital for science and math classes, especially course materials that include online portals to help them work through problems. They also prefer digital materials that help them locate information quickly and—no surprise here—content that is free, even though Baron found that many would take the printed book if price wasn’t a factor.