Brits snub digital books for hard copies because they love the smell, study reveals

BRITS are still resisting the lure of digital books – because they love turning the pages of hard copies, like the smell and want to have a bookshelf in their home.

A study of 2,000 adults revealed that despite being able to read stories on tablets, phones, Kindles and listen to audio books, more than two thirds still opt for a paper or hard back book.

Nearly half of those (46 per cent) like to be able to physically turn the pages while 42 per cent prefer the feel of it in their hands.

A quarter also admitted they love the smell of a book, 32 per cent feel they get more immersed in the story of a physical book and 16 per cent are reminded of libraries.

But after bookshelves became a popular backdrop for video calls during the lockdowns, 35 per cent also admitted to preferring physical books as it meant they could add it to a bookcase.

The research, commissioned by Oxfam, found that despite the digital revolution, just 16 per cent prefer to read an E-book while less than six per cent turn to audio stories. 

It also emerged the average adult currently owns 49 paper or hardback books and reads for around three hours a week.

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, who is working with Oxfam, said: “People prefer to read physical books because they offer something more tangible and grounded. 

“There’s something that can feel more “permanent” about real books over digital formats.

“Reading offers us a form of escapism. It provides us with a break from our everyday lives, and often also, an opportunity to learn something new and expand our minds.”

The study also found nearly six in 10 (58 per cent) readers claim a good book helps them to relax, with 46 per cent using it to escape from the real world.

But more than three in 10 simply read books to learn something new while 39 per cent do so to feel happy.


1.            You love to turn the pages

2.            You love the feel of them

3.            They’re easier on the eye

4.            You like to re-use and re-read books

5.            You like to keep a bookshelf

6.            You physically feel my progress through the story

7.            You get more immersed in the story

8.            You like to use a bookmark

9.            You like to see the cover

10.          Each book feels like a unique experience

11.          You love the smell of them

12.          They remind you of libraries

13.          You remember more of the plot

14.          You understand the narrative better

15.          They remind you of being read to as a child

16.          You love the history behind the book – where it has been

17.          Owning books makes you feel intelligent

18.          You might spot someone else’s notes in the margins

19.          You can write notes in the margins

20.          There is the prospect of finding a letter in the cover

Nearly half (45 per cent) also admitted to reading more books than usual since the start of lockdown, while 84 per cent of those heading off on a holiday this summer will take a book with them.

After the boom in reading, three quarters said they are considering donating books once they have read them, with another 72 per cent often buying a used book themselves. 

The poll also showed books are the item people are most likely to buy second-hand, with 71 per cent doing so because it’s cheaper, while 52 per cent like that it’s more environmentally friendly.

Others like reading pre-loved books because of the smell (18 per cent), texture (18 per cent) and knowing that you might find a letter or note inside (15 per cent).

And 45 per cent like to think about where second-hand books have come from.

The research, carried out via OnePoll, found 49 per cent of adults often buy second-hand items with books, car, clothes, CDs, and DVDs at the top of the list.

More than half of Brits feel buying second-hand items is just as good as buying new with 59 per cent saying it is more appealing now than it used to be.

Dr Touroni added: “Purchasing second-books can provide us with feelings of connection. 

“Knowing that someone else’s hands have held the very same book – and hopefully, enjoyed it as much as we have – can help us to feel more connected.”

Ian Falkingham, books lead for Oxfam, said: “Buying second-hand books can be beneficial for so many reasons; it’s far cheaper, better for the environment and holds a personal connection to whoever owned the item before. 

“You can find an Oxfam shop on almost every high street, and thousands of books, from adventure stories to history books, collectables to crime fiction, on our Oxfam Online Shop – there’s always something new to discover.”

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