Investors, manufacturers and advertisers are betting that electronic readers—such as the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad—are going to be the preferred means for reading long form literature in the near future. But according to a study conducted by Dr. Jakob Nielsen, curling up with the classics in electronic form isn’t exactly faster than the old-fashioned way—nor is it necessarily more enjoyable.
Drawing on a small sample of subjects (about 20), Dr. Nielsen gauged how long it took each one of them to read through a selection of Ernest Hemingway works. Each research subject read a story from a print book, then on a computer and then on an iPad and lastly, on a Kindle. Dr. Nielsen’s findings showed that readers were 6.2 percent slower on an iPad and 10.7 percent slower on the Kindle, when compared to reading in print. With regard to reading on a PC, subjects responded that they didn’t particularly enjoy it as much as reading in print, since it felt too similar to what they do at work. When it came to the iPad and Kindle, readers reported similar satisfaction as with the actual book. Lack of pagination, the weight of the iPad and the "less crisp gray-on-gray” lettering on the Kindle were among some of the complaints about the electronic readers.
All in all, the study is not particularly telling about the future of electronic readers. On the one hand, readers did not overwhelmingly report that reading on an iPad or Kindle was significantly better than reading from a book. Nor did they indicate that it was easier. As a usability study, this is perhaps a triumph, however. In order to replace print books as the dominant mode for reading, electronic readers have to prove that they have added value without any significant drawbacks. In this study, there were none of the latter. Meanwhile, the convenience of being able to load multiple titles, instantly retrieve books from online stores and other features may give electronic readers an age. For now, however, price remains the Achille’s heel for electronic readers. With iPads starting at $499 and books still being offered for free at your local library, there’s still quite a gap for electronic readers to fill before competing with print on price.