It’s possible to gift an app, but not nearly as exciting for a small child with nothing to unwrap on their birthday.

Helen Dineen

Parents who buy books for their children have an attachment to print vs. e-books, a new Nielsen study has found. “While technology continues to shift the way we interact with content generally, parents still attach a high level of importance to print — in some cases they even report a higher level of attachment to print than their actual buying indicates,” according to Nielsen.

USA Today

A problem with ebooks and book apps is that you can’t wrap them up and leave them under the Christmas tree. You can’t present a child with a physical object and see a face light up each birthday. If you want to ‘gift an app’ via the iTunes store you can, but the best you can do for the “Surprise!” part is jot the code down in a birthday card, or buy them an iTunes voucher with instructions on how to buy it themselves. Not quite the same.

Researchers who conducted the study above have some ideas about why parents prefer physical books over ebooks:

“For reasons that are not entirely clear, there is a distinct bias toward print when parents are self-reporting,” the study says. “We believe this may be because they visualize ‘a book’ as being a print book when we ask, or because of subtle biases relating to their own self-view of themselves as quality parents.

This seems a bit psychoanalytic for me. Using our own kid as an example, when we buy apps and Steam games for her (some cost significant amounts) she doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of the gift. “Can I have another game?” she’ll say, even though we just downloaded a game and paid $60 for it. She doesn’t display this level of ingratitude with physical presents. If she unwraps a doll she won’t immediately be asking for another one. True, she’s only young and doesn’t understand the value of money yet, but even young children seem to show a preference for large gifts. (The larger the better, until they start wanting gadgets and jewels.) My theory is that if you put a small gift in a large box and wrap it up nicely, the unwrapped treasure will be worth more in the child’s head because until we learn otherwise, size equals value.

Bits and bytes just can’t compete with that.

That’s my counter hypothesis, anyway.