The misunderstanding regarding the digital reading

In this article we focus, for the nth time, on the false dualism between printed book and eBook or between reading in paper form & digital reading.


In the past we have analysed university studies that have established how the sequential reading on printed text leaves more traces in our memory, we have discovered, with surprise, that during reading the elderly ones benefit from the backlight provided by the tablets and we have tried to explain the remarkable potential, inherent in the hypertext, in the links that connect a text to another.

In this article we will try to demolish for good the misinterpretation related to the digital reading. In few lines we want to convince you that the dualism between reading on paper and digital reading is totally unfounded. To do this, we will use the recent report published by ISTAT, the Italian Institute of Statistics, on 13 January 2016, in reference to 2015, report known as “Reading in Italy” (“La lettura in Italia”).

Let’s focus right away on the first important concept taken in the report: In Italy, are over four million the people who have read at least once on digital, in the last quarter, and the phenomenon is progressively becoming of the large-scale:

8.2 % of the overall population (4.5 million people equal to the 14.1% of the people who have browse the Internet in the last three months) have read or have unloaded online books or e-books in the last three months.

Although the phenomenon is less extensive and fast comparing to others on the Internet, such as the viral spread of WhatsApp, we are dealing with numbers that should not be underestimated, on the rise. Besides, the time frame under consideration is relatively short, a quarter and not the whole year.

To this first axiom shall be added another one: the digital reading is not an alternative to the reading on paper. As many hypothesize, there are not taking shape two factions of readers on the contrary we are turning into “omnivorous readers” digital & paper-based.

The printed volumes and the digital books are not alternative publishing products neither in competition: the share of people who in the last 3 months have read online or have downloaded books or e-books increases in proportion to the number of books at home and touches the maximum value (23.8%) precisely among the people who already have a personal library with more than 200 volumes. 

Therefore who loves to read lives, more and more, this own “predisposition” both in traditional framework and by the use of new approaches. On second thought the thing has its own logic, the value of a novel or a story is inherent in the work and not in the device that allows us the fruition, while the interest, the passion, belongs to the reader. In the house of who loves to read, the real library and the virtual one can fuse together and complement each other.

The “digital reading” phenomenon analysed by ISTAT surprises us further:

In this context may be considered as a positive signal, even if still weak, the fact that approximately 6% of those who don’t have books in the house, has surfed however the Internet in the last three months  and has read online or has downloaded books or e-books. The diffusion of the books in digital format as well as the e-books could represent in perspective a new approach channel to reading for those families that don’t have great familiarity with libraries and printed books. 

Maybe, after several decades and mass literacy, the printed book has reached maximum interest; maybe new channels of access to cultural heritage, the digital ones, would capture the attention of who doesn’t read today.

The eBook can capture new potential readers, compulsive, with little free time, good interaction skills, with a good relation with the media material and the web, readers who, precisely for the characteristics listed so far, don’t have the right bounce with the printed book. To whom are we referring? Obviously to the youngest ones! Hypothesis that is confirmed by the next step:

The online reading and the downloading of books and e-books are usually activities practiced by the youngsters: it concerns particularly 22.4% guys between 18 and 19 years old who surf the Internet. According to the findings for the traditional books, are more the females who read online and download books (15.2% of the women who use the web) than the males (13.2%), reaching a peak among the 18-19 year-old girls (27.8%). 

Almost one young person in four, among those who browse the Internet, one in five in absolute terms, reads “digital”. The digital reading is taking hold among the new generations, this last statistic index  leads us to conjecture that the percentage of digital readers will only grow in the coming years, especially if, as we think, the devices for reading, the prices and the conditions of reading will further improve.

There is one last point, sociologically relevant, to analyse: the digital book, unlike the printed one, is read with similar frequency throughout Italy. The digital will perhaps smooth out the gap, present in the traditional reading that has always existed in Italy between North and South.

Taking into account the access to the digital books via Internet, the traditional distances among the different areas of the country seem to scale down: reading and downloading books and e-books through Internet concerns in fact a share of people that oscillates between 16.4% of the Northwest and 11.9% of the Southern Italy and between 16.9% of the inhabitants of the central communes of metropolitan areas and 13.9% of those of the small centers (from 2.001 to 10.000 inhabitants).

To sum up:

  • The dualism between printed text and digital one is non-existent; it is only a chit-chat (or Facebook gossip).
  • Who reads lots of traditional books reads more and more often the digital ones too.

The fear that the digital reading will produce armies of illiterate is equally unfounded; in fact the trends provided by ISTAT indicate the digital channel as the way to catch the attention of the “no readers”, particularly the youngest. This greater propensity to the digital reading takes place both in the North and in the South, overcoming historical limits inherent in traditional reading, besides Internet is a virtual space of which tendencies hardly have geographical borders.

The true protagonists of this change are the young people and, indirectly, the technological tools, but the true promoters, authors of every cultural need, are the social agents the persons closest to them, their parents, teachers, librarians, social workers and so on. The action of cultural mediation is the core of the whole process, while the paper, personal computers, tablets and e-readers are only the access channels to the information; channels that change, inevitably, as time goes by.

Printed format or Digital? Doesn’t matter as long as you keep reading!

Pass the word!




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