How do university students read today?
So this is what books look like. Source: Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Books are dying, if not already dead. As humanity moves towards a world of blue-light screens, bookstores are shutting down one by one while e-books and Kindle sales, as well as website traffic counts soar.

Did universities – the hub of knowledge making and seeking as we all know it – escape this trend? Or have all its libraries migrated to the digital world?

When it comes to reading – the inescapable activity for most students in universities since time immemorial – how have things changed in 2018?

A new survey by has found that print is now for pleasure while ebooks are the go-to for students when it comes to conducting research.

Laptops and smartphones are the most popular reading devices used by students. Tablets, not so. Source: Anna Demianenko on Unsplash

When it’s for pleasure, almost three-quarter (74 percent) of the 360 respondents said they prefer print compared to only 12 percent who chose ebooks, according to the 2018 Academic Student Ebook Experience Survey.

In the same vein, more than two-thirds (68 percent) chose print for assigned narrative reading.

But when it’s for research, 45 percent said they preferred ebooks while 20 percent said they had no preference. More than half said they used more ebooks for research during the past year – Graduate students and those in four-year colleges recorded more notable increases in their use of ebooks, especially those in online classes.

But why?

They’re more convenient, relevant sources are more available, easier to search and cheaper, according to respondents. On the other hand, those who shunned ebooks spoke of their preference to print and their availability in their university library.

While books are easier to read, ebooks are easier to obtain. Three-quarters of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I have an easier time reading print books than ebooks”, while two-thirds (66 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that “ebooks are more convenient to get than print books”.

Professors also “want current info, so e-references are easiest” or “the type of research I have been doing in grad school and the final year of undergrad has been more intense and targeted. I now need a wider variety of sources, and need those sources to be searchable for speed” or “I have less time to physically go to the library” and even “it’s easier to carry ebooks than printed books”.

Having page numbers to be used for citation are important to students. Source: Jess Watters on Unsplash

Some cons about ebooks center around digital rights management (DRM), which restricts printing or downloading of portions or the entire ebooks for offline reading. More than half of the respondents are sometimes or often frustrated by this.

To students, the most important ebook feature is having page numbers to use in citations (75 percent). This is followed by the ability to resize text to fit a device’s screen (67 percent), readability on a phone or tablet (64 percent), the ability to bookmark pages, highlight text, or take notes for later reference (60 percent).

Survey respondents comprised of students currently enrolled in four-year colleges and universities (65 percent, graduate programs (20 percent) and two-year or community colleges (15 percent).

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Put Muslim characters who don’t need ‘saving’ on school reading lists

Yoda appears with Saudi king in high school textbooks