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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.


Hi Bruce. So I dove into some academic reading on my iPad Kindle app and it's actually not that bad. It's difficult to gauge against my 'for fun' speed reading but I'll share my interaction and experiences so far with digital reading. At first, it took a while to find the right kind of pointer to use. I might be stylish but I'm not a stylus gal. The best all-around - a gently used pencil with a slightly rounded eraser - the eraser end, of course. It doubles as a screen cleaner of all that greasy finger gunk too! (Who knew?!) My settings were at the second to smallest font size, giving me no more than 210 words per page in double columns, so I calculated what digital position/page I needed to be at for 15k and set a bookmark for the page and a digital "note" at the specific location if it's not close to the full page; otherwise I just round up by whole screen pages. No time lost on page turning, so that's good since there's 100-150 words less per page than my printed books on average. That also means I can sit in more comfortable positions and have some flexibility (reclining) as long as I can swipe my pencil eraser across the screen. As far as previewing, that works great for me so far. The Kindle books I have for school on my iPad have TOCs that are hyperlinked so I can actually preview more and faster than flipping through a traditional book. I can also turn on popular highlights and jump right to those to start my mindmapping points. These are great for previewing because you can start with a great set of very specific questions, but you'll want to turn them off when you start your speed read because they'll distract you and slow you down, if not bring you to a screeching halt. Mindmapping is key and is a HUGE paradigm shift regardless of one's reading modality. I tell all my cohorts who were in the class, if you're not spending more time on mindmapping than you are on the actual reading, you're not doing it right. Okay, I digress ... stepping off soapbox. Other things that can put a hiccup in any reading session on an iPad, it does funny things with text when there are images, charts, or call-outs involved, and this can throw off all the text on any page until you have it in just the right position - speed reading or not, this is an annoying feature/bug/limitation of the Kindle app for iPad. I'm sure this depends on how technical the material is and it doesn't happen that often, but when it does, I just skip the page until I get to a 'clean' one. Bookmarks and notes can be added and deleted easily along the way to track your times, placeholders, and WPM right in the material as if you're writing in the margins. I still do my mindmaps with blank white paper and a Sharpie and build from there until I get ready to finalize it, then I put the final into a mindmapping app or website for later studying. This particular class doesn't have any testing but I do have to be able to speak to the subject matter intelligibly enough in front of the class for presentations and typical Q&A and exploratory discussions. I've dropped to approx. 1400 WPM but it's hard to say whether this slowdown is due to changing solely to iPad from hard copy or if it's because it's the first iPad school reading I've had higher stakes in, material was new, and my 'worry-factor' was in high-tune. My last hard copy read where there was no test, but I had to role play based on reading was just over 2400 WPM. It was a short easy read on negotiation that I finished in about 35 minutes. Mindmapping and recall didn't require as much work since I had a significant amount of previous knowledge on the topic so it was great to be able to draw from that. All-in-all, not a bad first experience, and a newbie to speed reading. It would be great if I knew some App Developers who could develop a speed reading app that would attach to the Kindle app or anything you might be reading (I use PDF reader also) that you could enter your WPM goal and time in that would provide some low sound as you hit your marks, automatically count the words and keep an online log of your practice reads vs. the other RRs - just thinking out loud. Still playing around with the settings. Next time I'll try converting it to whole screen vs. double columns and shrink the font size down to the smallest to see how many WPP that fits. So far doesn't appear to be that significant of a difference at a glance. I'll keep you posted. Cheers! Michele

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