Paper: A love story


According to the Government of Canada, we manufacture over 3 million tons of paper per year. Amazon, the giant of online markets, has just opened three new brick and mortar stores. Bookstores, once predicted to be on the decline, are still alive in both independent and chain form. Why, in a digital world, are people still dedicated to paper products?

Jen Long, who works at A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, has one theory.

“I feel like people love paper because most people are tactile learners,” she said. “They like to touch and feel things. And, actually, the owner of the store and I were talking about this. We feel that bookstores haven’t quite gone the way of music yet because people want to hold a book.”

There’s something appealing about holding a book in your hand. Why, then, have ebooks not taken over the market? They are portable and lighter than lugging books around.

Lisa Eschli, digital assets technician at Sheridan College Trafalgar Campus library, said that physical books are still superior to their digital cousins.

“I’ll give you a personal example,” she said. “When I’m reading a book, physically, and I remember an important moment that happens in a book and I keep reading and I want to go back to that moment, I know, physically, where in the book I was. So I can open it back up to that page. Whereas, when you’re digital, you have no idea where you are in the book, how far you’ve read, how much further you have to read. So, for me that’s one example why I prefer paper. It’s a memory thing.”

Long agrees. “I hate e-readers,” she said. “I don’t want to stare at a screen all day but I can sit with a book for hours. I feel like it’s more personal. It has more effect for me if I’m reading off paper than if I’m reading off a screen.”

Long said that when she’s in the store, she notices that many customers have a strange tendency when they pull books off the shelf. “There are people who come in here and I catch them sniffing the books,” she said. She pretended to take a whiff of the invisible book in her hands. “They’re smelling them. There’s actually a smell to paper that people enjoy, I think, too.”

There’s a science behind the smell of paper, too. Andy Brunning, a chemistry teacher in the U.K. and writer behind the blog Compound Interest, made an infographic explaining the chemical makeup behind the smell of books. “It’s likely that the ‘new book smell’ can be put down to three main sources,” he writes. “The paper itself (and the chemicals used in its manufacture), the inks used to print the book, and the adhesives used in the book-binding process.”

Andy Brunning, a chemistry teacher in the UK, made an infographic breaking down the chemistry behind the smell of books (Image courtesy of Andy Brunning/Compound Interest)

 There’s just something grounding about paper products. “When it’s an ebook, I skim a lot more,” Eschli said. “I don’t absorb it as much. If you want to really absorb material, paper is what you go back to.”

If you love paper products, here are a few local spots to check out:


About Christina Janssens 0 Articles
Christy Janssens is a second-year journalism student at Sheridan College. She writes about books, travel, and culture. She is inspired by new places and authentic stories.