Print, Audio and Ebook Experience

I thought this blog post would never eventuate after our aborted President’s Day weekend in Telluride that coincided with a huge boulder falling on a transmission line resulting in zero power to the whole town. We actually ended up driving back to Denver early after a night of picnicking in the semi darkness of our (rather chilly) hotel room. My husband and I called it our family Valentine’s Day adventure but after 12 hours of driving in 2 days it was more of an exhausting Valentine’s Day than anything…although, at least now I have no excuses and the blog post could be completed:)

On the way to Telluride and back we listened to two audio books in the car – one (which shall remain nameless) highlighted the very worst aspects of the audio book experience (wooden narration revealing a badly written novel in all its horror…) and we gave that one up after three discs; the second (thankfully) displayed all the wonderful elements associated with listening to a great book on CD. This (and I’m more than happy to identify it as The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman) was narrated by the wonderful Derek Jacobi (and a cast of other great British actors) and so was perhaps an unfair comparison – but, at least for part of our trip, the audio book experience was pleasantly memorable.

Both my twin boys love listening to books narrated well and still enjoy having me read aloud to them each night (which I still managed to do in our Telluride hotel room by flashlight!). What is interesting to me is that, although they love a great audio book, they are still ambivalent to ebooks – far preferring to read the print version. I often end up buying or getting from the library the print version of ebooks I own for them, as both boys want to read the hard copy rather than the electronic version. Since they both love spending on their computers and iPads, I have to wonder why neither of them have embraced ebooks. Is it because, like a bad audio book experience, it feels awkward and unenjoyable? Or is there something magical about turning the pages of a printed book that cannot be captured in an ebook (something that, as children, they feel strongly about perhaps?).

With recent reports of Amazon potentially opening physical bookstores, I also wonder whether we are finding an increasing resistance to ebooks (?). Now, I’m equally comfortable reading on my Kindle as I am reading the print version of a book – and yet my boys, who have grown up in the age of the iPad and Kindle, are not. They turn their noses up at any offer I may have to purchase the ebook version of a book they want. They’d much rather hold a book in their hands.

What about you? As a reader, do you have a preference for print, audio or ebooks? As a writer are you more wary of ebook only publication sites or publishers? Have you had a great book ruined by the audio version? What do you think – are we perhaps seeing generational differences that might result in a resurgence of print (if my boys are any indication)?

33 thoughts on “Print, Audio and Ebook Experience

  1. I can (and do) read either e- or “analogue” books, but, like your boys, prefer the latter.

    I like the feel of the page, the way the weight shifts from right to left as in move through the story, and it’s so much easier to find my place, or go back a couple of pages, or make marginal notes and underline (if it’s my book,not the library’s).

    To my mind it’s a lot like going to Yellowstone as opposed to looking at pictures of Yellowstone (on-line or in-hand).

    • When I ask my boys about why they prefer the print version they say things like ‘ebooks hurt my eyes’ or ‘it just doesn’t feel the same’. Given that playing Minecraft doesn’t seem to hurt their eyes (!) I can only assume it is a visceral reaction to the act of turning the page and reading print on paper. Clearly for them it is like going to the ‘real’ place rather than looking at the photos:)

  2. Very interesting. I’m curious if others will post about their kids’ reading habits. I, too, in this digital age, would think they’d go for an e-book. I haven’t seen any statistics one way or the other (that I recall) about readership for kids/youth.

    When you get to be my age, the Kindle (or other e-reader) is a tremendous blessing–I need to be able to adjust the font to read a book and I can’t do that with print. Plus it’s just so much more convenient (otherwise how could I carry around 400 or more books in my backpack? 8-). The only titles I buy in print are non-fiction ones that have graphs or charts I need to study from (like textbooks or certain other topics I’m studying). Otherwise, for me it’s e-book all the way.

    • I don’t really know stats about kids in general (I think people are just thankful if they are reading at all!). I find ebooks convenient, especially when traveling – but move between print and ebook versions easily. It will be interesting to see if data start coming out about this new generation of readers and what they prefer.

  3. I have never read an ebook because I just do not enjoy the experience. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up reading “real” books and because I am a professor of history who spends his time pouring over old manuscripts, I don’t know.

    A recent study of the use of ebook technology in college classrooms concluded that students who read their course material on ebooks retain less information than when they read them in paper form.

    This technology has its place and can be very beneficial to some people, but I have never ascribed to the belief that ebooks will completely replace print texts. We will have both, as I think we should. Using both ebooks and printed texts increases our options and the flexibility of the reading experience.

    As for audio books, I love them. My mother read to me as a child and I still enjoy the experience. I don’t have much time to sit down and read fiction anymore so much of what I “read” in the fiction category is in audio books while I am driving, working around the house, or exercising. Again, this technology gives us options and so it will persist.

    I am less concerned about how people read than that they read at all. My college students as a group read very little of anything, including their homework.

    • I remain excited that my kids love reading books – in whatever form that may take:) Interestingly I think studies also show that students who take handwritten notes in class (as opposed to typing notes on their computer) also retain more as they have to condense the information when writing – when typing the focus is more on transcribing than distilling the information being heard.

  4. Good pondering material, Clare. I know for me, I was sold on the Kindle when I figured out I could have the complete works of Charles Dickens for 99¢ and take the whole set on a plane. Also, with bookshelf space already at a premium in my house, the benefits were obvious.

    Kids don’t have that issue. They don’t travel as much, they don’t own homes. And technology doesn’t wow them. They’ve grown up with iPads-Pods-Phones. A print book is actually a welcome diversion.

    They are also intensely loyal…so when they get into a series they love, they’ll want the experience of something tangible, they’ll want to collect, savor, have it around to look at. A child likes to hug a new stuffed animal. You can hug a book; you can’t hug bytes.

    • My kids are intensely loyal to authors and series they love. Jasper demands I preorder the next book in the series as soon as it’s available – that way he can be sure it’s going to come and he will have it in his hot little hands the moment it’s released. I love that! Of course as you say…he doesn’t have to worry about buying it or storing it quite yet!

  5. My first published books were put out by a digital first publisher back in the day when there were no Kindles, and people read on PDAs (remember those?) Or their computers. I bought one of the earliest dedicated e-readers (an eBook Wise) and fell in love with the way I could enlarge fonts, and read in bed at night without turning on a light. I moved to the Nook Color, which was the first e-reader with a back light, because the add-on lights for Kindles weren’t the same. It was still a light you had to turn off and on. With my e-reader, I can curl up in my bed and flip pages with one hand.

    I still read print books; I just buy fewer of them. Space is limited since we’ve retired and downsized. Another thing about print that’s begun to bother me is the tendency for the publishers to format them so the print runs too far into the gutter, and it becomes a workout to keep the book open enough to read the full line of print. Anyone who reads Diane Gabaldon will appreciate the digital version over holding up her huge tomes.

    As for audio — my brain won’t stay focused. A word or sentence will trigger another thought, and then I’m lost.

    • Having tried to read Outlander without having the book fall and brain me in bed I completely agree – ebooks so much easier:) I love listening to audio books in the car only when I’m not driving (otherwise I get distracted too easily).

  6. I read both, but since I read in the early morning hours, I prefer ebooks for the lighted screen. My family all prefer print books. There really is something magical about holding a physical book. I have an ebook first publisher, the print doesn’t come out till 90 days after the ebook, which is in a couple weeks. I can’t wait!

  7. I have a Kindle and appreciate the large print. But, when I really love a book and want to re-read it, highlight or take notes, I buy the print version. I found James Wadsworth’s comment about students’s retention interesting. It is certainly true in my case. When I read fiction on Kindle or the iPad, it’s as though I’m reading in my second language, in my case Italian. Although I am fluent there is a certain distance. In church, for example, the same prayers and songs I find moving in English leave me cold in Italian. Reading electronically is the same. I don’t know why.

    • Interesting…the concept of ‘distance’ when reading ebooks versus print isn’t one I’d considered before but I wonder if that’s what quite a few people feel when they read electronically versus a printed page.

  8. I prefer the printed media to the reader media. I have tried my wife’s kindle and I just don’t “get” it. I need the ability to hold the book in my hand and flip through it with my fingers. And to be upfront and honest, I can’t read in the bathtub with an electronic device. 🙂

  9. I was born during WWII to a nurse (in the stand-up-when-the-doctor-enters-the-room era) and a librarian who tended the books and materials of a boarding school for American Indian students, run by the federal government.

    The library was part wonder-land and part unknown country. I had access to books that were way, way advanced over the usual fare for most high school students. (And keep in mind that some of the students didn’t begin speaking English until after they’d entered grade school.) The reasons for these adult-level books were two. (1) A number of the students attending the high school in that day were veterans, combat and otherwise, of our U.S. military forces that had fought WWII; they had been accepted into the vocational training programs the school offered; in a few weeks, some had gone from commanding platoons and squads and ships’ companies that had charged pillboxes, engaged in hand-to-hand combat, killed enemy soldiers by any and all means they could, and carried badly wounded men from burning ships, tanks, and buildings, to learning the skills of livelihood. They were adults in every since of the word even though some were still only 19 years old. (2.) During the war, FDR, under Executive Order 9066, had ordered Japanese-Americans into so-called internment camps and relocation centers. One of these relocation centers was within 40 miles of our school. When the camps and centers were closed before the end of the war because the U.S. Supreme Court determined that FDR had detained American citizens unconstitutionally, the library materials were sent to our school.

    Because of that, in addition to the books in the relocation center library, I had access to the stereopticon viewers and the 10s or 100s of thousands of stereo slides. I could also hook up the old projector and view the myriad of glass-plate slides that were also sent to us by the wartime authorities. I learned how to thread a movie projector, and I watched film shot all over the world.

    I sat amongst the dark woods and stale smells of stacks, tables, and bookcases and read and read and learned. To me, learning and entertainment includes the concept of BOOK. Not e-book, though I own hundreds of them.

    So your statement that your boys like books more than e-books, is a thrill to me. May the spirits of book continue to infuse the minds of your sons. And may they, on a day when they are called to account for their educations and achievements, remember that they had a Mom who helped them love book. Even at times when the lights go out.

  10. I should’ve added that my younger two boys prefer the hard copies to e-copies… Genetics? Let’s hope that’s the only thing they’re saddled with from the old man~


  11. I like them both..for different situations. I prefer a tree book (and I prefer paperbacks to hardcovers because they are easier to hold in my small mitts and are more portable.) Actually, my fave is trade paper format which has the nice size of a hard cover but the ease of mass market books.

    But when it comes to travel, the Kindle just can’t be beat. I go to France often on vacation and while it’s cool beans to drop into Shakespeare and Co., the books cost a fortune over there and you can’t always find what you want. On my trip last fall, I was there for four weeks in the rainy countryside and went through three great books in the first week that I had brought with me. (Station Eleven, The Last Policeman, The End of the Affair). The cottage where we were staying had lots of books but it was heavy on James Patterson and Mitch Albom. Just couldnt crack one of those after what I had read. But I had brought my Kindle and I fired it up and promptly ordered three more books, including the sequel to Policeman.) And when you travel with two dogs and a month’s-worth of their special allergy food (20 lbs), you can’t lug around a lot of books.

    I am with everyone here who says the like the tactile and visual feel of tree books. But I have also found that if the story is compelling enough, I forget about the fact I am looking at a screen when I read.

    Paper or plastic…? They are just different delivery systems to me. I’m just really thankful eBooks exist because without them I would have no access to some really great back list books. And frankly, my own stuff wouldn’t be out there for folks to find.

    • Oh…forgot to mention audio books. I listen to one once on a drive up to Daytona and it was so good I missed my exit by 20 miles. Haven’t listened to another since. I’ve got enough voices in my head already.

  12. My husband and I both have macular degeneration and cannot read a regular book anymore. If not for the ebook version (which allows us to enlarge the type) we would not be able to read at all. We each read at least one book a week.

  13. Audio books just don’t work for me. I’ve never been good at remembering names unless I see them written down. By the end of the first chapter, I’m totally confused about which character is which, something I don’t experience if I read. Because I need to bump up the font size, all my reading is on an electronic device these days.

    My daughter found that back-lighted screens caused her too much eye fatigue when she’s reading a novel. She has an e-ink device for books and a tablet that she uses for graphic novels. Like your boys, Clare, it doesn’t bother her to spend hours staring at a computer screen while playing a game.


    • I have the new Kindle and I have to admit it it is much easier on my eyes to read that using my iPad. I still can’t believe my boys can spend so much time on their devices doing homework and playing games yet still, reading a book on them, feels strange!

  14. I received a Kindle as a gift about 5 years ago and haven’t read anything on it.
    I love physical, printed books. I used to be a book mender, I’m trained to keep paper books alive and readable.

  15. All my pleasure reading is via ebook. Having been through a couple of Nooks, I’m now onto an iPad mini. I use both Nook and Kindle reading apps. I always enlarge the font. As others have noted above, this is one the great things about ereading. I had to get a library card about a year ago, and now check out ebooks more often than I buy them. I never thought that would happen! I can browse and check out at any time without ever having to set foot in a library, although I sometimes have to wait.

    The one thing that I prefer in paper books is going back and forth between sections to re-read bits of a scene, or character intro, etc. Flipping through pages is much easier than scrolling through an ebook.

    The type of dead tree book I am most likely to buy, and least likely to purchase as an ebook, is cookbooks. They’re easier to look at, the print size isn’t an issue as they’re so much larger than fiction books, and they’re much easier to keep open on a kitchen counter if you’re actually making the recipe. The iPad would turn itself off, be a pain to follow, and an ill placed splatter could be the end of it.

    I don’t think I would listen to an audio book if someone gave me one for free. I have yet to redeem a single Audible coupon that has come my way. I’m not interested in being read to, I can read faster than people speak, and my mind would probably tune it out and be onto other thoughts and I wouldn’t get anything out of it, anyway.

  16. I’ve read about studies indicating that reading printed content is more conducive to what is called “deep learning” than reading the same material displayed on a screen. If those reports are true, perhaps your boys are demonstrating a natural preference for a deeper level of concentration as related to the experience of reading (or listening to) a story. As more and more schools ditch printed books in favor of presenting textbooks on devices, I wonder if students are suffering a loss of capacity for deep learning, overall. Perhaps excessive reading from devices will turn today’s youth (and everyone else) into a people with limited attention spans–“popcorn kittens”, as Jim said in his post yesterday. I applaud your children’s preference for printed books–It’s seems like a healthy Preference for a stronger, deeper type of learning.

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