June 22, 2018

“People Feel Very Differently About Owning Physical Books Versus E-Books” (New Research From U. of Arizona)

From the University of Arizona:

Despite stereotypes that paint millennials as “all technology, all the time,” young people may still prefer curling up with a paper book over their e-reader — even more so than their older counterparts — according to a new study from the University of Arizona that explores consumers’ psychological perceptions of e-book ownership.

The study also found that adult consumers across all age groups perceive ownership of e-books very differently from ownership of physical books, and this could have important implications for those in the business of selling digital texts.

“We looked at what’s called psychological ownership, which is not necessarily tied to legal possession or legal rights, but is more tied to perceptions of ‘what is mine,'” said lead study author Sabrina Helm, a UA associate professor who researches consumer perceptions and behaviors.

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For the study, which is published in the journal Electronic Markets, Helm and her colleagues convened four focus groups in different age ranges: one group of baby boomers; one group of members of Generation X; and two groups of millennials. The millennial groups were split into current college students and older millennials.

The researchers moderated discussions with the groups about their feelings surrounding ownership of physical books versus e-books.

These major themes emerged from the discussions:

  • Participants across all age groups reported feeling a constricted sense of ownershipof digital books versus physical books, based on the fact that they don’t have full control over the products. For example, they expressed frustration that they often could not copy a digital file to multiple devices.
  • Along similar lines, many study participants lamented restrictions on sharing e-books with friends, or gifting or selling the books, saying this made e-books feel less valuable as possessions than physical books.
  • Participants described being more emotionally attached to physical books, and said they use physical books to establish a sense of self and belonging. Participants across age groups frequently spoke about their nostalgia for certain childhood books. They also talked about experiencing physical books through multiple senses — describing, for example, the sound, smell and tactile experience of opening a new book, and the ability to highlight or write notes on paper pages. Participants also said they use their physical book collections to express their identity to others who might be perusing their shelves. E-books did not have these associations.
  • Minimalists expressed a preference for digital books because they take up less physical space.
  • Many participants said the e-book experience feels more like renting than buying.
  • While almost everyone expressed strong attachment to physical books, and no one embraced a fully digital reading experience, older consumers, contrary to what one might expect, saw more advantages than younger consumers to reading with an e-reader. They referenced physical benefits that might not be as relevant to younger consumers, such as the lightweight nature of e-readers and the ability to zoom in on text.

Direct to Full Text Article

Direct to Research Article: “Consumer Interpretations of Digital Ownership in the Book Market” Abstract Only; Paywall, via Electronic Markets)

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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