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Consumer Reading Preferences: Paper or Screen?

by Two Sides

A new survey into the preferences of consumers for printed versus digital communications has been published by Two Sides, the global organization created to promote the responsible production, use and sustainability of print and paper. The survey, which was commissioned by Two Sides and undertaken by international research company Toluna, sought the opinions and preferences of UK and US consumers on a number of issues relating to the change from paper-based to digital media.

Results of the US survey highlighted that 88 percent of respondents indicated that they understood, retained or used information better when they read print on paper compared to lower percentages (64 percent and less) when reading on electronic devices. The same trend was found for reading complicated documents, with 80 percent indicating a clear preference for reading print on paper, and reading on screens showing a much lower preference than print at below 16 percent across all age groups.

The survey also revealed 81 percent found printed media more relaxing to read, while 62 percent of mobile/smartphone users (rising to 73 percent among the 18-24 year olds) were concerned about how these devices were damaging their health (eye strain, headaches, insomnia). Overall, the survey reported that 81 percent of respondents preferred to read print on paper when given the choice.

"The results of this US survey will be useful for all those who choose the way in which information is distributed, particularly for advertisers, marketers and educators who need to understand how information is being delivered, received, processed and retained," explained Phil Riebel, president of Two Sides North America. "While on-screen reading occupies an increasing amount of consumer time, people’s preferences still are for reading print on paper, which they believe to be more informative, less distracting and less harmful to their health. Results also show that many people are concerned about the effects on learning and literacy due to the switch from printed books to digital media in our school system." The Two Sides survey shows that 68 percent of respondents believe that books are more likely to encourage learning and the development of other skills than using screens, and that 63 percent of respondents worry that children are not going to learn as much without books.

While acceptance of digital media generally is stronger among younger age groups, there also is a strong preference for print on paper existing across all ages.  

Key findings from the Two Sides US survey

  1. 88 percent of respondents believe that they understand and can retain or use information better when they read print on paper. There were only minor differences between age groups.
  2. When given a choice, 81 percent indicated that they prefer to read print on paper. These percentages drop to 39 percent for screens, laptops and PCs; 30 percent for e-readers and 22 percent for mobiles or smartphones.
  3. 81 percent indicated they are most relaxed when reading print on paper. Age group differences were minor. Mobiles or smartphones are seen as the least relaxing way to read, with only 30 percent preferring this method. Younger age groups indicated that they are more at ease with reading from screens than the over 45 age groups.
  4. 75 percent indicated that they were more relaxed and receptive when reading a magazine in print, compared to 26 percent when reading a magazine on screen. Differences among age groups were minor, with over 73 percent of all age groups preferring to read a magazine in print.
  5. 80 percent stated a clear preference for reading print on paper for complicated materials in contrast to only 13 percent preferring to read complicated materials on a computer screen. Mobiles and smart phones were preferred by only three percent for reading complicated materials. Reading on screens showed a much lower preference than print at below 16 percent across all age groups.
  6. Only 23 percent indicated that they are easily distracted when reading print on paper, whereas electronic media showed higher distraction ranging from 66 percent for mobiles and smartphones to 42 percent for e-readers.
  7. Many respondents print out documents. The main reasons are as follows:
    • 74 percent believe printed documents are easier to read.
    • 55 percent believe printed documents are more secure.
    • 56 percent believe printed documents are better for storage and archiving.
    • 47 percent believe printed documents are less likely to be lost.
  8. 44 percent to 57 percent indicated that they prefer paper bills by mail for their financial services, utilities, telecoms, mobile or smartphone and TV. The over 45 age groups showed a higher preference for paper bills than the under 45 groups.
  9. Advertisements in print are clearly given more attention than their online equivalent, as evidenced by the following:
    • 64 percent pay more attention to advertising when reading magazines in print. 26 percent pay more attention to advertising when reading magazines online.
    • 60 percent pay more attention to advertising when reading newspapers in print. 29 percent pay more attention to advertising when reading newspapers online.
    • 48 percent pay more attention to advertising when reading leaflets received by mail or dropped at the door.
    • 26 percent pay more attention to general online advertising.
  10. There are clear concerns that switching from printed books to digital methods is affecting education, such as the following:
    • 68 percent believe that books are more likely to encourage learning and the development of other skills than using screens.
    • 63 percent worry that children are not going to learn as much without books.
    • 59 percent believe that learning from books is the best way to learn.
    • 58 percent would insist that their children learn from books. 
    • 42 percent believe that learning from screens, PCs, tablets, etc. is just as effective as books.

The full report can be downloaded at www.twosidesna.org.

Two Sides is an independent, nonprofit organization created to promote the responsible production, use and sustainability of print and paper. Two Sides is active globally in North America, Europe, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Colombia. Its members span the entire print and paper value chain, including forestry, pulp, paper, inks and chemicals, pre-press, press, finishing, publishing, printing, envelopes and postal operators. For more information about Two Sides North America, please call 855.896.7433, email info@twosidesna.org or visit www.twosidesna.org.