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Print Books for Health and Learning

By Shawn Pang

(Continued from Part 1 – The Novel of Words: Print Books Are Here to Stay

Reading print books is beneficial to your physical well-being. A 2014 Harvard Medical School study looking at sleeping patterns with different bedtime reading approaches found that reading e-books before turning in lessened the production of an important sleep hormone, melatonin. The reduced melatonin resulted in people taking longer to sleep, experiencing less deep sleep and feeling more fatigued in the morning.


On the contrary, reading print books may actually help you sleep better. A 2009 study by the University of Sussex in the UK found that reading print books helps to calm frazzled nerves; and it works better and faster than listening to music or going for a walk. This escape from the stresses of daily life does not depend on what book you are reading and is not just a mere distraction. The study reasoned that it is an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate creativity and cause readers to enter an altered state of consciousness.

Another 2014 study done in Europe, led by researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, found that readers of e-books fared “significantly” worse at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story than readers of print books. Mangen pointed out that her findings corresponded with an earlier study of comprehension tests by 72 Norwegian tenth-graders (equivalent to a lower secondary school student) which found that “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally”.

Not only are the adults and students benefitting from reading print books, young children are too. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop in the US found that young children who read print books were recalling a lot more details when compared to children who were reading e-book version of the same story.

The appealing interactive feature of e-books is a double-edged sword, distracting the young readers from reading. In 2014, two American researchers at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia reported that young readers often skipped the text and headed to the interactive features. Though appealing, these digital offerings may end up diffusing the children’s attention and interfere with their comprehension of the text.

As Long As Nobody Gives Up

Even the major publishers are optimistic about the continued relevance of print books; just look at their recent expansion to both their retail network and capacity. The American Booksellers Association reported in 2015 that the number of member bookstores had increased by 21%, compared to 2010, while the locations of the member bookstores had also increased about 34% in the same period. The New York Times reported that in 2014, Hachette had added 218,000 square feet to its Indiana warehouse, Penguin Random House had added 365,000 square feet to its warehouse, and Simon & Schuster had expanded a New Jersey distribution facility by 200,000 square feet. In the UK, Waterstones had previously announced their plans to open a dozen new bookstores in 2015. Even Amazon, the e-bookstore giant, had ironically set up a permanent physical bookstore in Seattle’s University Village.

Reading in bookstoreThe younger generation is not abandoning print books. Reading as an activity will continue.

Besides, physical bookstores are taking the initiative in the prolonged fight against their online competitors. Japan’s Kinokuniya Company recently announced their plan to increase direct purchases of print books from publishers to revitalise their local bookstores. This resonates with the belief of the guardian of Chinese books, Mr Yeo Oi Sang of Xinhua Cultural Enterprises, that the spark of Chinese book industry can burn brightly again as long as nobody gives up. This perseverance is exactly what the print book industry needs.

Indeed, a 2013 study commissioned by Ricoh, the Japanese imaging and electronics company, on the evolution of the book industry in the US found that nearly 70% of respondents felt that they are unlikely to give up on print books by 2016. Despite the perceived popularity of e-books, the study also found that 60% of the downloaded e-books in the US were never read.

Reading as an activity will continue; it is just the delivery mechanism that has changed. We will have to accept that e-books will not be going away anytime soon. Perhaps, this is the new equilibrium of books. The good news is print books are here to stay. Don’t just take it from me. Group CEO of POPULAR, Mr Chou Cheng Ngok, once said, “With the advent of computers and the internet, some people say that books will be replaced. I say books are here to stay.”

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