Are Books the New Tablet?

There’s a reading technology that’s really hot right now. It’s called the book.

reading a book


The iPad 2 was unveiled yesterday, sending concussive waves throughout the Internet. Many in publishing have met tablets and e-readers with a certain ambivalence, lamenting what seems like an inevitable decline of the printed word. But a new survey in honor of World Book Day, a massive celebration of reading in the U.K., has an encouraging finding for the traditionalists: Adults and teenagers alike still prefer the printed book.

A few other interesting findings from the survey: Almost half of teenagers have read a book on a computer; 17% have done it on a mobile phone. Over 13% of teens have used tablets like the iPad to read a book, though only about 9% of teens had used e-readers to read one, surprisingly.

Today’s World Book Day event, an annual affair now in its 14th year, is traditionally targeted at primary-school age children, with “book tokens” distributed that may be cashed in for books. This year is targeted more at teenagers, and has been updated to reflect the rise of e-reading, with a new website called Digi-tale, which offers what the Guardian very Britishly says is a new story from “bestselling author Louise Rennison, of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging fame.”

If it’s indeed true that the kids are gravitating more to the printed book than the e-book, it’s not hard to imagine why. The beleaguered book is still a hot, innovative technology. Even the largest tomes are cheaper than an e-reader. You’ll never even think about their battery life. Many have sleek displays (though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover), plus full-color illustrations. Pages load instantaneously, may be dog-eared, and are fully enabled for in-margin annotation. Plus, a book, unlike an e-reader, can actually appreciate in value over time, rather than become obsolete. A first-edition Hemingway will fetch thousands of dollars. Who, now, wants a first-edition Kindle?

As kids grow up surrounded by tablets, we wonder whether their eyes, undazzled by technology simply for its newness, might decide that the most innovative, efficient, and delightful form of reading was under our noses all along.

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[Image by Casey David]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.