E-books and printed books can and do coexist. It’s our job to understand how and why readers choose e-books or print.

With the rise of the internet and handheld electronic devices, e-books have become more and more popular. This has caused many to wonder if one day e-books will replace printed books. The answer might lie in the habits and choices of readers. Will readers choose e-books over print and drive that industry out of business, or will the two be able to coexist?


In their 2021 article “Reading Fiction with an E-book or in Print: Purposes, Pragmatics and Practices. A Focus Group Study,” Lukas Kosch, Günther Stocker, Annika Schwabe, and Hajo G. Boomgaarden from the University of Vienna take an explorative approach to amplify the perspective on digital and print book reading. In their focus study group, they interviewed 34 habitual fiction e-book readers to try to understand why they chose e-books over print. 

They inquired into topics such as the readers’ motivation to start reading e-books, the reading devices they use, their reading practices and behavior, reading situations, reading experience (including concentration and distraction), and purpose- and genre-specific media decisions. In the end, the researchers came to the conclusion that “the self-descriptions of the e-book readers…show how e-books complement rather than replace printed books” (Kosch et al. 2021, 215). 

“The self-descriptions of the e-book readers…show how e-books complement rather than replace printed books.”

Kosch, Schwabe, Boomgaarden, and Stocker (2021)

Kosch et al. found that experienced readers knew exactly when and why they chose to read things digitally instead of in print, and with one exception, none of them had stopped reading printed books altogether. They also found that genre and purpose were big determiners in what format the participants selected. For example, they found that the participants were more likely to read fictional novels and other narrative literature digitally, but they were more likely to read non-fiction in print form. The participants reported that they read e-books more linearly and only once, but they were more likely to read a printed book non-linearly and more than once. 


Kosch et al.’s research indicates that e-books and printed books do exist together successfully and even complement each other. E-books, for the moment, don’t appear to be taking over the print industry and leaving printed books behind. If anything, they have created a more versatile experience for readers to modify how they read to best fit their needs. Because of the variety of preferences, publishers should understand the relationship their audience has with e-books and printed books. They should know which format their readers prefer and how they intend to interact with the information in the books. This understanding can help publishers decide which path to follow. 

To learn more about fiction readers’ preferences with e-books and print, read the full article:

Kosch, Lukas, Günther Stocker, Annika Schwabe, and Hajo G. Boomgaarden. 2021. “Reading Fiction with an E-Book or in Print: Purposes, Pragmatics and Practices. A Focus Group Study.” Scientific Study of Literature 11 no. 2 (December): 196–222. https://doi.org/10.1075/ssol.21012.kos

—Abigail Ellis, Editing Research


Find more research

Take a look at Avery Andros’s Editing Research article for additional research on readers’ preferences between print and e-books: “When to Print and When to Publish Electronically.”

Check out Annika Schwabe, Lukas Kosch, Hajo G. Boomgaarden, and Günther Stocker’s (2022) article to learn more about demographic and motivational differences between print readers and e-book readers: “Book Readers in the Digital Age: Reading Practices and Media Technologies.” Mobile Media & Communication, 0 (October). https://doi.org/10.1177/20501579221122208.

Read Andrea Ballatore and Simone Natale’s (2016) article to find out more about the alternative narratives surrounding the possibility of the disappearance of print books: “E-readers and the Death of the Book: Or, New Media and the Myth of the Disappearing Medium.” New Media & Society, 18 no. 10, (July): 2379–2394. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444815586984.