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Study Finds E-Book Reading Is Slower and Less Relaxing
Study Finds E-Book Reading Is Slower and Less Relaxing

By Barry Levine
July 6, 2010 11:23AM

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A study by Dr. Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group has found that reading an e-book takes longer than reading the same book on paper. The Nielsen study also found that a printed book was judged more relaxing than reading on an Amazon Kindle 2, an Apple iPad, or a computer. Another survey found that printed books remain popular.

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Fans of old-fashioned books, take heart! A study indicates that reading an e-book takes longer than reading the same book on paper.

The study, by usability expert Dr. Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, a product-development consultancy, compared reading times on Amazon's Kindle 2, Apple's iPad using an iBooks application, a computer monitor, and a real book. The study found that the reading times of two dozen users was as much as 10.7 percent slower with the electronic versions.

Hemingway Stories

In a survey, a test group of two dozen would be extremely small, but, in usability studies, many researchers think two dozen -- or fewer -- can reveal the majority of issues.

All the selected users liked reading, and frequently read books. For the study, each read different short stories by Ernest Hemingway, and measurements were made on speed and comprehension. Comprehension was about equal on the four different platforms, but the stories on the iPad were read an average of 6.2 percent slower than on paper, and on the Kindle 2 about 10.7 percent slower. Reading speeds on the computer monitor were not provided.

The iPad, Kindle 2, and book were rated about equal for how well they were liked by users, although a printed book was judged more relaxing. All users liked reading off a monitor least of all, comparing it to being at work.

Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester, said a study conducted in May by her firm found that people who like reading e-books still expect they will be reading regular books in the future.

Reading Books in a Year?

The Forrester survey of 4,200 consumers focused on users who read e-books on any available devices, including smartphones and laptops. The users were asked to imagine how they would be reading in a year. With e-book readers multiplying and prices dropping, choices will likely be plentiful and even more affordable in a year.

But only about six percent said they expect all books they read to be e-books. Most of the respondents fell in the middle, saying they expect they will be reading regular books as well as e-books.

Epps said the responses indicated users like e-books for many reasons, including the convenience of carrying titles without added weight and managing the reading device with only one hand.

Michael Gartenberg, a partner and analyst at the Altimeter Group, said he's "never heard speed come up as an issue" by e-book readers, and that, in any case, the differences cited by Nielsen's study "were not all that much."

He also noted that the Nielsen study didn't address the trade-offs that users might accept, such as not needing a book light or having searchability. Because of this omission, Gartenberg said, the study seemed "rather inconclusive."

Tell Us What You Think



Posted: 2010-07-08 @ 6:23pm PT
The information is interesting. I work with adolescents who are struggling, reluctant, and resistant readers. Some have told me that if they had an electronic book that would motivate them to read more. I'll do just about anything I can to help my students discover the joys of reading and if reading e-books will hook them, I'm try it. I'm looking for a generous soul or a grant to get 12 to 15 Kindle's or Nook's for my classroom. Then I would need for each device to have numerous books of different genres and readability levels for my students to have a choiCe in their reading.


Posted: 2010-07-07 @ 10:40am PT
Just read an e-book on the way back from Hawaii on my PDA. Nice to have lots of books for the plane with no weight, but much much slower than a book -- maybe 1/3 to half as fast. Not the PDA's fault, I'm just a very fast reader. I use e-papers and e-books professionally, and it's nice to have them with you for reference, but I print them out if I'm actually going to read them.

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