Why Your E-Book Might Not Feel Like 'Yours'

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.

People's sense of psychological ownership is affected by three primary factors: whether they feel as if they have control over the object they own, whether they use the object to define who they are, and whether the object helps give them a sense of belonging in society, said Helm, who teaches in the UA's John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"Psychological ownership is important in people's perception of how they value certain products or services or objects," she said. "In the context of digital products, we thought it would be appropriate to look at how people take ownership of something that's not really there — it's just a file on your computer or device or in the cloud; it's more of a concept than an actual thing." 

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 (read more)...

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