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Does it take you longer to read an eBook than a printed book?

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Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox blog about his study of people reading long-form text on tablets taking longer than reading print drew a lot of publicity since its publication on 2 July 2010.  He conducted a readability study of people reading fiction on the two highest-profile tablets: Apple’s iPad (first-generation) and Amazon’s Kindle 2.  His blog was titled “iPad and Kindle Reading Speeds.”

Methodology used

“We ran a within-subjects study, testing each user on all 4 reading conditions — printed book, PC, iPad, and Kindle — rotating the sequence in which we exposed users to each device…  One major benefit of within-subjects testing is that it minimizes the effect of individual variability among the test participants,” describes the methodology.  “On each device, we asked each user to read a short story by Ernest Hemingway.  We picked Hemingway because his work is pleasant and engaging to read, and yet not so complicated that it would be above the heads of users.”
On average, the stories took 17 minutes and 20 seconds to read, according to Nielsen.  “This is obviously less time than people might spend reading a novel or a college textbook, but it’s much longer than the abrupt reading that characterizes Web browsing.  Asking users to read 17 minutes or more is enough to get them immersed in the story.  It’s also representative for many other formats of interest, such as whitepapers and reports.”
After users read each story, they were given a brief comprehension questionnaire to test their understanding of the story.  “The exam’s main purpose was to ensure that people would take the reading task seriously because they knew they’d be tested on it.”
The survey tested a total of 32 users: 5 for a few rounds of pilot testing and 27 for the main study.  “Unfortunately, we had to discard the measurement data from 3 users due to measurement flaws, so our reading-speed statistics are based on the remaining 24 users.”  The study recruited participants who like reading and frequently read books.  “This is obviously a biased sample compared with the entire population, but we felt that narrowing the target audience was reasonable for a study of e-readers.”

At the beginning of each session, the study quickly assessed the participants’ reading skills by administering the REALM literacy test, which asks people to read words of varying difficulty and scores them based on the number they mispronounce.  “In our study, most users got all the words right; 2 people failed on one word, which indicates at least a high-school literacy level.”

Survey results

  • “The only fair conclusion is that we can’t say for sure which device offers the fastest reading speed.  In any case, the difference would be so small that it wouldn’t be a reason to buy one over the other.  But we can say that tablets still haven’t beaten the printed book: the difference between Kindle and the book was significant at the p<.01 level, and the difference between iPad and the book was marginally significant at p=.06.”  (Participants read printed books faster than books on tablets: The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, while the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print.)
  • After using each device, participants rated their satisfaction on a 1–7 scale, with 7 being the best score. The results:
    * iPad = 5.8o
    * Kindle = 5.7o
    * Printed book = 5.6
    * PC = 3.6
  • “This study is promising for the future of e-readers and tablet computers,” Nielsen writes.  “We can expect higher-quality screens in the future…. But even the current generation is almost as good as print in formal performance metrics — and actually scores slightly higher in user satisfaction.”

My question to you

What is the importance of this study? What did you take away from it?

What the press says

Using my ever handy RSS feeds, I gathered about 20 articles posted on the web in the week following the release of this study.  I wanted to see what they took from the study.  For each entry below, I’m including the headline, author, source (URL), and my summary of findings in the text of the articles. Here’s my informal and unscientific findings:

  • Headline:  “E-book reading is slower. But not by much”
    Author:  Stuart Dredge
    SourceMobile Entertainment
    Summary:  Usability study finds promising results for e-readers’ future.
  • Headline:  “E-books take longer to read than print, study says”
    Author:  Ed Oswald
    Summary:  “While the study may seem to suggest that e-books are not up to par with print just yet, there may be some problems with the study that could be exaggerating the read times.  First off, the study is very small which may not account for all the different types of readers.  Second, it is unknown how these participants were selected, and if it was done using accepted practices to ensure studies are representative of the public at large.  Finally, we do not see how age affects reading speed.  It may not be too out of the question to expect youth to be able to read faster since they are much more acclimated to reading off computer screens than their older counterparts.”
  • Headline:  “No Speeding Reading with eBooks?”
    Author:  Miranda Marquit
    Summary:  “In order to appeal to the book loving audience, ebook publishers have taken pains to do what they can to make the experience close to reading, by working with fonts and word sizes, and even using techniques that allow you to use a motion of ‘turning’ pages.  Even with all of this, though, reading an ebook is slow going when compared with reading more traditional books. And now a study has been completed that show that you can read faster with a traditional book.”
  • Headline:  “E-Readers Not as Comfortable as Paper Books, Survey Finds”
    Author:  Nathan Eddy
    Summary:  “A survey of e-reading devices like the Apple iPad and Amazon’s Kindle 2 suggests some consumers are not yet ready to make the leap from paper books to digital texts, citing the weight of the devices, slower reading speeds and less-than-crisp text displays.”
  • Headline:  “Study: E-books take longer to read than print”
    Author:  Blake
    SourceLibrarian & Information Science News
    Summary:   “It takes longer to read books on a Kindle 2 or an iPad versus a printed book.”
  • Headline:  “Reading Print Books Faster But Less Enjoyable Than Reading eBooks, Says New Study”
    Author:   Peter Lavelle (News from the Ink Cartridge & Printing Industries)
    Summary:  “People read printed books most quickly, but find reading iPads most enjoyable.”
  • Headline:  “Reading Speed On Ebook Is Slower Than On Paper.. So What?”
    Author:   Desire Athow
    Source ITProPortal
    Summary:  “Apart from the issue of the sample, which was quite small (only 24 book readers), Nielsen conveniently ignored the fact that people do not necessarily buy Ebooks (or printed matter) because of how fast they can read text on a screen.”
  • Headline:  “Study: Reading eBook eReaders Takes Longer Than Print”
    Author:  Ryan Fleming
    Source Digital Trends: Upgrade Your Lifestyle
    Summary:   “A recent study finds that it is 10-percent faster to read standard print pages than it is to read tablets and e-readers. Score one for old school. In the increasing rush to turn everything digital, it seems like sometimes the old ways are the best- at least in some ways.”
  • Headline:  “Reading on Paper is Faster than iBooks on the iPad”
    Author:  Ian Paul
    Source:   PCWorld
    Summary:  “It will take you longer to read a book on an iPad or Kindle compared to the printed page….  So it appears technology hasn’t quite figured out yet how to replicate the experience of the printed page.  That said this study leaves a lot to be desired owing to its small test group size, but it would be interesting to see a similar study on a much larger scale.  I’d be curious to find out, for example, if there’s any big difference in reading speeds based on age groups.  Would people in their 20s read faster on a screen than a book since they’ve spent a majority of their lives consuming digital content?  How would the younger group compare to people in their late 30s and early 40s who also grew up with electronic devices such as the Commodore Vic-20, the original Mac, and IBM clones?  This study also left out reading on a laptop, which is a far more mobile reading experience than a desktop PC and could therefore be more enjoyable.”
  • Headline:  “Speed Reading? iPad and Others Put to The Test”
    Author:  Zealot
    Source:   Mobility Site
    Summary:  “Based on this data, the study concludes that Books are still better for reading than ebook readers…. However, that conclusion has some major flaws….  Reading quickly does not always mean reading better, or reading more enjoyably or more effectively.  As I tell my son over and over, there is no prize for finishing first.  While interesting, I think all this test proved is that people are still more used to books than they are ebooks, but that’s about it.  Not exactly shocking news.”
  • Headline:  “Study Finds E-Book Reading Is Slower and Less Relaxing”
    Author:  Barry Levine
    Source Mobile Tech Today and News & Information for Technology Purchasers
    Summary:  “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’.”
  • Headline:  “Ebooks are slower to read than paper, survey shows”
    Author:  Emma Woollacott
    Source TG Daily
    Summary:   “Reading an ebook is substantially slower than reading a standard paper version.”
  • Headline:  “Study finds reading ebooks takes longer than paper”
    Author:  Anonymous
    Source Digital Home
    Summary:   “If you want to read a book quickly, you’re better off reading a paper edition than a digital edition.”
  • Headline:  “eBooks vs. Print: Which Takes Longer To Read?”
    Author:  Taken from, listed below.
    SourceHuffington Post
    Summary:  “It takes longer to read books on a Kindle 2 or an iPad versus a printed book.”
  • Headline:  “Study: E-books take longer to read than print”
    Author:  Lauren Indvik
    SourceCNN Tech
    Summary:   “Reading speeds decline on e-readers, although satisfaction ratings bode well for the future of tablet devices.”
  • Headline:  “Ebooks Take Longer to Read, Study Suggests”
    Author:  Tim Morgan
    Source:   The National Ledger: An Eclectic Mix
    Summary:  “Ebooks are so convenient, with millions of books at your fingertips and just a quick download away.  But do ebooks take longer to read than traditional books printed on paper?  One study has suggested that.”
  • Headline:  “Reading A Book On An iPad Or Kindle? It Might Take Longer”
    Author:   Laura Sydell
    Source:   NPR
    Summary:   “The study is interesting.   But, I remain a little skeptical because 24 people is such a small sample.   That said, as someone who has read on all of those devices it has a kind ‘truthiness’ for me.”

Web site readers comments about the study

  • “My statistics is a little rusty, but they say that the iPad is 6% slower to read on than a book, and a Kindle is 4% slower than that.  They reach the conclusion that they “can’t say for sure which device offers the fastest reading speed” but they are able to say that books are faster than tablets. Really?”
  • “Sounds like a biased study looking for support of its predetermined conclusion.”
  • “This study makes sense because printed books are still about twice the resolution of the current eReaders.  The eReaders are about 150 DPI which is the same a newspaper.  Printed books are at about 300 DPI.  I can’t believe they didn’t mention this obvious fact in relation to the study!”
  • “As a senior with less-than-perfect vision, I find I can read a .PDF file much easier with Evince on my 22″ monitor than I can read the same book on paper.  The zoom is very handy.  I admit that a 22″ monitor isn’t the last word in portability, but it sure beats NO reading.”
  • “The study is all wet, and failed at every sort of methodology one could think of for running even a simple survey has more controls than this.”
  • “This study is hilarious.”
  • “As always I am inclined to follow the money.  Apparently this study was done by a group which has financial motive in publishing such a story.”
  • “This is a retarded study.  If it was a SERIOUS study, it would actually film the retina movements from word to word of SAME PERSON on the different devices to see if he really does read slower, and if so why.”
  • “Nielsen is on the editorial board of Morgan Kaufmann Publishers’ book series in Interactive Technologies.  Did this fact make any difference in how this study was conducted?”
  • “I read 2-3 times faster with my Kindle than with a printed book.  I can size the print to my fastest speed something that a printed book doesn’t give you an option to do….  I’ve read more books in the past six months than I have in years – almost one book a week, which I’ve never done ever before.”
  • “How does reading an e-book take longer than reading a paper copy?”
  • “Totally flawed study.  As such, this is not newsworthy.  Next topic please!”
  • “Oh, and the final nail in the e-reader coffin for me is that a good old fashioned book will never run out of batteries in the middle of a long trip.”
  • “I just finished reading an entire book on a Sony Reader.  I also read an entire book on an iPod Touch within the last month.  With both books I was able to have an immersive reading experience.  I have the font optimized for my comfort on each device.  I wonder if in this study the readers were allowed to have time before the study to become acquainted with each reading platform and get them set up the way they liked them?”
  • “Why does anyone have to read so fast anyway.  The faster you read, the less you will absorb, understand and remember.  Just take a look at some of the posters here, with their misuse of punctuation, spelling, grammar and sentence construction.  They obviously completely ignore those elements when they read, otherwise they would be better writers themselves.  Try to read any of Norman Mailer’s works fast (and understand the deeper meaning).  Go ahead.  I dare you.”
  • “This study makes little sense.  Reading can be stunningly fast when you really are loving a book, it’s like it isn’t even there as the hours fly on by.  If you read than you know what I’m saying.  Just having a bunch of slobs reading a Hemingway story isn’t going to show you reading speed.”
  • “I would love to know who is the statistician who said 10 is the minimum for reliability.  It real stats, you need a min. of 32 for a sampling to be statistically relevant.  But then you have to take into account confidence level of 95% and an interval of +/- 3% for a population of roughly 300 million people and the sample size needs to be 1067 in order for any such study to be valid.  This entire article is so faulty it’s not even funny and CNN should be ashamed for publishing such an article.  It is bad math like this that people accept blindly as they don’t have a grounding in the math that creates blind acceptance.”
  • “There is so, so, so much more to it.”

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