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iPad & Kindle versus Gutenberg July 15, 2010

As gizmo-addicts guzzle Kindles and iPads, I'm frequently asked the big question "What's better? Tablet e-readers or Gutenberg's printed books?"

Well, for the prolific high-speed reader, e-reader tablets simply cannot cut it. Even at slow speeds, Gutenberg's printed books have advantages over tablets. In a recent study of reading speeds on tablets versus printed books, Dr Jacob Nielsen found reading speeds on Apple's iPad to be 6.2% slower than in printed books and Amazon's Kindle 2 to be 10.7% slower than in printed books. Then adding in the inability to preview the e-book, looking at graphics, images, headings, summaries and conclusions, and you're way behind the Gutenberg folk in reading speed.

But then neither iPad nor Kindle claim to be selling productivity. They're selling convenience -- "at less weight than a soft-cover book you can store 1500 books on a tablet e-reader" -- I think the slogan proclaims. Frankly a bit pointless those who don't read do so not because of the weight of a book but because of either an inability to read or a lack of available time. Now, if you plain and simply cannot read, neither Apple, Amazon nor Gutenberg will help you. But if it's lack of time that keeps you away from books, just maybe the e-reader's convenience might encourage you to read in situations that are not ideal for reading printed books, such as poor lighting conditions, very bright sunlight or those endless international flights.

I believe the biggest benefit of e-readers will be a behavioral one if e-readers encourage people to start reading and to develop a passion for reading, they will soon get hooked and will want to read more, and when available time for reading becomes an issue, faster reading speeds will demand printed books.

As expected, users found reading a printed book more relaxing than any of the electronic devices, and interestingly enough, in measuring user satisfaction, Nielsen found iPad, Kindle and printed books scoring equally high at 5.8, 5.7 & 5.6 respectively. The PC however scored an abysmal 3.6, apparently because it reminded the users of work. Perhaps the same may apply to the younger readers printed books remind them of school while e-readers smack of gaming.

So, if you're a speed-reader (that's 1000 words a minute or more), Go for Gutenberg! But for your kids and other reading novices of all ages, Apple and Amazon might just help them take that first crucial step in developing at least a beneficial behavioral pattern, even if not much productivity.

If you've tried any of the e-readers, either successfully or not, your comments here would be appreciated.