Arts and Culture

Gen Zers are bookworms but say they're shunning e-books because of eye strain, digital detoxing and their love for libraries

A young man browsing book shelves.

Younger people are showing a preference for physical books over e-books. Image: Pexels/cottonbro studio

Kate Duffy
Reporter, Business Insider
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  • Gen Zers – people born between 1997 and 2015 – say they prefer to pick up a printed book rather than an e-book.
  • This is partly because of eye strain and practicality, but also because of social-media trends such as #BookTok.
  • Some people also say they just love the smell of real books and supporting their local bookstore.

There's no doubt that Gen Z loves to read.

This generation, defined as people born between 1997 and 2015, is often considered phone-obsessed and addicted to technology. But when it comes to reading, Gen Zers say they prefer to pick up a printed book over an e-book.

Book sales in the US and the UK have boomed in the past two years, the management consultancy McKinsey found. Sales in the US hit a record of more than 843 million units in 2021, while last year had the second-highest number sales, at almost 789 million. This increasing popularity was partly because of Gen Z and its social-media trends, including the hashtag #BookTok on TikTok, McKinsey said.

Perhaps the most surprising trend is not Gen Zers' love of books but the way they consume them. While their pastimes usually involve a screen, data and interviews with Insider suggest this doesn't apply to books. They're choosing to ditch digital formats and opt for the timeless paperback book.

For UK book buyers ages 13 to 24, print books were the most popular way to read between November 2021 and November 2022, as they accounted for 80% of purchases, research from Nielsen BookData found. That's compared with e-books making up 14% of sales from this age group in the same period, according to the data.

"There is nothing like opening up a real book on a couch or beach," Madalyn Boyd, a 23-year-old from Michigan, told Insider. She said while e-books were affordable and great for traveling, her preference was printed books.

Have you read?

"The smell of real books is so personal," Boyd said, adding that she loved visiting libraries and shopping in bookstores.

Wang Sum Luk, a 21-year-old student studying English at Oxford University, said he'd used an e-book in the past but found it impractical. While e-books may seem more convenient, Luk prefers a print edition, he said.

"I don't feel as much eye strain reading them, and I find myself focusing more when reading from a printed book with my computer off," Luk, who looks at around half a dozen books a week for his studies, said.

He said he also liked using the university library for books.


What is the World Economic Forum's Book Club?

In a survey of Americans by Pew Research between January 2021 and February 2021, almost 70% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said they read print books, while 42% said they read e-books. Overall, more than 80% of them said they read a book in any format — the highest percentage out of all age groups surveyed, according to Pew Research.

Lili Dewrance, a 23-year-old in London, told Insider that reading an e-book didn't let her take a break from the screen, or "digitally detox."

"There's pleasure in treating myself to a new novel, and I enjoy supporting my local bookstore — it feels like a treat, and you can't replicate this experience by simply downloading it onto a digital device," Dewrance said.

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