Ever since the inception of the electronic book in the latter half of the twentieth century, the debate over e-paper versus real paper has raged. Enthusiasts champion the e-reader, now probably best represented by the Amazon Kindle, as a cheap and modern way of storing and accessing thousands of books, but traditionalists say that only real paper carries the character of novels.

Since the foundation of the oldest digital library in the world, Project Gutenberg, in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, e-books have become hugely widespread across the world, in almost every living language (and a few dead ones). The U.S. Declaration of Independence was the first text on Project Gutenberg, of what is now more than 50,000, and the number of texts available since then has increased exponentially.

But what impact does this have on young people today? Sceptics say that the devices are responsible for a decline in young people’s reading, but recent surveys have found that younger people are less likely to own an e-reader than people in the over-55 age bracket. However, this statistic might not be what it seems: one of the reasons suggested for this is that young people are more likely to own a general-purpose tablet which can read e-books than the older generation. It could be said that, while not necessarily possessing the character and sense of history of paper books, the sheer number of books available could mean that the variety of young people’s reading is increasing. With a little bit of searching, books as rare and disparate as Robert Musil’s The Young Törless and E.E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room can easily be tracked down and downloaded.

The champions of paper books still say that e-books are bringing the humble ink-and-paper book to the brink of extinction, but there is one thing that keeps the market very healthy indeed: books being given as gifts. People buy each other paper books – not e-books, and that is looking unlikely to ever change. So neither side is ever likely to find themselves victorious, and for good reason: nothing can ever replace the character and gift value of a paper book, but the existence of e-books has allowed rare and unusual titles to be transported far beyond what their print runs will allow.