To Read: Print or Digital?

In digital age, print still top pick

Stacey Long

keyScience suggests that the brain perceives printed letters as physical objects – eliciting an emotional as well as intellectual response. Thus, readers are more engaged when reading print.

The numbers of those who own and use electronic devices for reading are gradually increasing, but the printing press is nowhere near being put in permanent storage. Even today’s modernized and tech-savvy generations testify to holding a soft spot for their print libraries – an inclination that appears to be grounded in more than sentiment.

People connect with print

Whether children or adults, people who use e-readers still prefer to pick up the print format when it comes to spending quality time with a book. 

Pew Research reported that in the past year, 69% of adults read a book in print and 28% read an e-book. However, while 32% own a specified e-reader such as a Kindle or a Nook, and 50% read on a handheld device such as a tablet computer, only 5% said they read an e-book and did not also read a print book. 

Personal preferences for reading print books are perhaps due to tactile involvement while reading. Research conducted by universities and individuals in Israel, Norway, Canada, France, Taiwan, Mexico, Britain, Sweden and various regions of the U.S. all indicate that a print book provides an irreplaceable reading experience.

In particular, one recent study by Anne Mangen of Norway’s University of Stavanger compared test results between students who read an assigned text digitally and those who read the paper format. Students who read print did better with reading comprehension and plot reconstruction.

childrenreadingMangen agreed with other researchers in concluding that there is a greater emotional connection when handling a paper text. Print books allow the reader to physically navigate a text, sensing weight, thickness and progress through the book as they thumb through pages. This creates a mental map of where on a page or how far through the book a specific detail can be found, which aids in long-term memory.

In addition, science suggests that the brain perceives printed letters as physical objects – eliciting an emotional as well as intellectual response. Thus, readers are more engaged when reading print. Another study by Mangen supported this theory.

“Paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and … immersion than iPad readers,” she reported.

fatherreadingfireplaceOther studies have arrived at the same conclusions, but even apart from such research, people gravitate to print for a more pleasurable reading experience. Parents, in particular, choose print books for their children. Although more likely than other adults to read e-books, 94% of parents say it is important that their children read print books, according to a 2013 Pew Research survey.

In this way, parents seem to be intuitively aware of the importance of print reading for personal growth, and choose a format based on the purpose for reading.

Mangen suggested, “[Choose] what kind of devices should be used for what kind of content … [based on] what kinds of texts are likely to be less hampered by being read digitally, and which might require the support of paper.


Make the most of reading

  • Use a print Bible rather than relying solely on e-versions.
  • Personalize reading selections rather than only following online feeds.
  • Read with children to cultivate early interest and skills in reading.
  • Print out and read interesting or critical information from online sources.
  • Interact with what you read (i.e. highlighting, underlining, marking in margins, etc.)
  • Search for “Best Books” recommendations from Christian sources.
  • Purchase quality Christian books from AFA store (; 877-927-4917).
  • Give young people print versions of favorite books.
  • Subscribe to AFA Journal (; 800-326-4543, option 2).


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