E-books have a lot going for them. Their content can be updated, and many formats allow readers to interact with the material. These qualities make e-books especially appealing in the academic world and schools, where it is possible to replace piles of textbooks with one tablet.
But some studies suggest that there may be significant advantages to printed books if your goal is to remember what you read long-term.
Kate Garland, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England, discovered that there are subtle distinctions that favour print. First, computer reading required more repetition to impart the same information. Second, the book readers seemed to digest the material more fully. "We found that people started to know the material on paper more quickly over the passage of time," says Garland in an article published by Time.com.
Context and landmarks may play a big part in this phenomenon. Printed books give us a physical reference point, and part of our recall includes how far along in the book we are. E-books provide fewer spatial landmarks than print.
Of course, there are also practical reasons for favouring paper books.
"For many, a printed book is the better option for example when they are on the beach or using public transportation, as they don't have to worry about losing a connection, running out of battery or forgetting the mobile device somewhere," says Anne Lagus, former Director of product segment Book at Stora Enso.
Reading is a recipe for many skills
Lagus points out, however, that from the perspective of general reading and communication skills, the bigger question is not about the reading platform we use – it's about if we read or not.
The same idea was raised by the teachers that participated in a survey made by the Finnish Periodical Publishers' Association (FPPA). Although 40 per cent of teachers believed that the internet, mobile phones and e-readers negatively affect the native language skills of children and young people, they also offered a simple recipe for better mastery of the language: read more.
"All reading improves both language skills and comprehension of what has been read. That is why any form of reading that children and young people get excited about is good," one of the respondents commented.
Finnish writer Siri Kolu agrees. She sees reading as an identity skill: "It is a drug against solitude and it increases understanding between different people and cultures. There is no more important skill."
Kolu is the author of the popular children and juvenile series called Me Rosvolat [Me and the Robbersons]. She has also written novels for young adults. Her books have been translated into 18 languages.
She believes that young people still put a lot of value in books. "If a 15-year-old boy asks what book he should read to make an impression on the nicest girl in class, I wouldn't be too worried about books going by the wayside."
Kolu gave her comments in the Frankfurt Book Fair, where the world's book industry met for five days in October 2014. The Guest of Honour of the yearly event was Finland. It was the first Finnish cultural export project financed in equal parts by public and private funds. Stora Enso was one of the companies supporting the project.