The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Physical books have advantages over online reading

3 min read

Some researchers say physical interaction with a book helps with reading comprehension. |


Staff Writer

In a time where infinite reading materials are available at your fingertips via the tap of a screen, you might have wondered why printed physical books are still such a popular choice. 

Especially for college students, electronic books are an appealing option because they are more affordable and easier to transport between dorms and the library. Despite this, there is a lot of value in reading traditional print books and textbooks. 

One of the top concerns with reading e-books is that they contribute to an individual’s daily screen time. Overexposure to electronic devices can cause digital eye strain, as well as a variety of other symptoms such as headaches and blurred vision, according to UCLA Health. These symptoms are often relieved by ceasing digital reading after an extended period, but they can also develop into longer-lasting issues. 

The American Optometric Association states that digital screens have more blue light and glare, as well as less contrast and definition between the text and background. These factors combined place more stress on the visual system than reading printed words does. 

Techniques such as frequent breaks can help to prevent digital eye strain, but it can be largely avoided by choosing print books when the option is available. 

A more unexpected benefit of physical print books is improved reading comprehension of the text. In a study by the University of Maryland, students predicted that they would experience better reading comprehension after reading a digital version, compared to reading a print version of the same text. 

However, the results of the study contradicted their predictions. Students remembered more details and showed a more complete understanding of the text after reading the physical printed version.

Researchers suggested that the improved understanding of print books may be caused in part by the tactile experience of turning the pages. Physical books also make it easier to glance or turn back to previous pages, which enforces understanding of the reading. 

Another issue with electronic books is that they allow for the possibility of distractions. Reading on your phone or computer means that many other tempting options are presented. Notifications will urge you to read new emails, check on texts, or look at updates on social media, among many other things.

Research shows that students are less likely to multitask while reading paper books. The lack of distractions very often means increased productivity. The majority of students also reported that they felt more satisfied with the experience of reading a physical book. 

However, none of these factors resolve the issue that is most prevalent in the minds of many individuals, and students in particular: prices. In many cases, books can be found for low prices or even for free online. On the other hand, physical books quickly become expensive, often costing over $100 for a hardcover textbook. The easier accessibility of e-books is one of their main draws.

There are numerous possible solutions, and the best options can vary for each book. Renting textbooks, buying used copies, or checking libraries for book availability can all be good options for students. Individuals could also consider audiobooks, possibly used in conjunction with another format, in order to minimize digital eye strain.

While some may prefer e-books, especially in certain situations, physical books still provide an array of benefits which e-books cannot truly compete with. Universities should continue to endeavor to make used textbook options more affordable and available, as well as maintaining their library collections, in order for students to have access to the option of physical texts.

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