Just what I needed to hear — e-readers slower than paper

Sure, the same day my Nook arrives somebody’s gotta release some scientific study on e-readers. And what do they find? People who read books on an iPad read 6.2% slower than when they read a printed book while reading on the Kindle is 10.7% slower than print.

Now, granted, the study doesn’t include the Nook but I’m guessing that’s irrelevant, especially since my first couple days using the Nook on an occasional basis indicates the study made a few probably accurate observations. In fact, I think the slower reading time is in part due to the fact that because the pages on an e-reader are smaller than the normal printed page, there is inherently additional time consumed just “turning” the pages.

The reading speed study only used information from 24 people so I don’t know how statistically valid it is. But there’s a few things that indicate that the reaction of those involved may be fairly universal. On a scale of 1 to 7, e-books and printed books scored at 5.6 or above. Reading on a PC screen scored what was called an “abysmal” 2.6. Yes, people hate reading on desktops. In addition, those who participated in the study disliked the Kindle’s use of gray-on-gray letters and the lack of true pagination while they felt reading a printed book was more relaxing.

I would agree with all of those. Although perhaps not identical to the Kindle, I would prefer a higher resolution, color reading area and the pagination is somewhat confusing, as it takes about two and a half Nook “pages” to constitute one printed page (or so it appears). And the look and feel of the Nook are more antiseptic than a real book, which reduces the tactile experience that can contribute to making reading a printed book enjoyable. Not addressed are a couple things I’m still struggling with, such as how some of the controls are set up in the interface and what I can and can’t do as easily as I would think. The mix of touch screen and non-touch screen on the same device is also a bit confusing, especially since I use a Blackberry Storm that is almost entirely touch screen operated. I am also slowly learning which formats are better than others, such as Adobe Digital Editions or ePub over PDF or text files.

At this point I can’t say I’m totally enthralled with the Nook and would probably end up rating it in the same range as the subjects of the study did the Kindle and iPad. I am willing to recognize, though, that I am still at the point of getting acclimated to the device and the concept, so this is just an initial reaction. But it’s still a bad time to tell me it may lengthen how long it takes me to read a book.

UPDATE: This must be causing major heartburn in B&N’s legal department and executive suites. Does Amazon own the patent for the Nook?

The printed page transcends space and time.

El Lissitzky, “The Topography of Typography”

3 comments to Just what I needed to hear — e-readers slower than paper

  • I also saw this but quickly disregarded it because the sample size is just too small. 24 people is soo tiny compared to the number of people who read books only, the number of people who read on both e-devices and on paper and, the number of people who read on e-devices only. I’m one of those people who is resisting reading books on electronic devices. So perhaps this study is targeted to people like me. Still, it’s just badly done and statistically irrelevant to conclude anything from it. I hope you enjoy your Nook.

  • If my e-reading is slower, it’s because I do it on my netbook and keep flipping over to check my e-mail and fire off blog responses.

    I wonder how much of our reading speed is conditioned by familiarity with the technology. Raise kids on e-readers, and will they read just as fast as kids raised on books? And following your thought that speed differences could simply be a product of the amount of text per page, are there any studies that show a difference in reading speed between books and newspapers?

    A prof showed me a children’s book reader on his iPad: full color, beautiful crisp text, even wonderfully animated pages turning with the swipe of a finger. it struck me as funny that some programmer was making such effort to make a solid tablet of glass and aluminum look and behave like a bound stack of paper sheets. I wonder: when the first bound books came out, were there scroll users complaining that they didn’t know how to work those new-fangled contraptions? 🙂

  • Tim

    I would bet scroll readers (as well as scribes) saw Gutenberg’s device as the end of civilized culture. I would agree that kids who use electronic texts do read faster than someone like me but it would be interesting to see if there is any impact on reading comprehension scores.

    I knew the iPad had a color screen but to some extent the size seems to somewhat defeat one of the aims of e-readers (small but plenty of books). That, of course, also overlooks the fact an iPad will do much more than a Kindle or Nook (at least currently).