A recent study found that readers using an e-reader such as the Kindle 2 read nearly 11 percent slower than reading the equivalent traditional printed page. While the study seems to suggest that tablet reading devices are inferior to printed books for consuming the written word, it does not account for the convenience and overall higher reading volume made possible by devices like the iPad.
While it may be true that readers read slower when using a Kindle 2, Nook, iPad, or other e-reader device, the speed impact has to be considered relative to how much those same readers might consume if left only to printed pages. It is much easier for mobile business professionals to carry massive PDF docs in electronic format, and be able to bookmark and annotate digitally, than to expect that they will print and carry the same document in paper form.
The reality is that many people barely read at all, but the convenience and portability of tablet reading devices, combined with wireless access to virtually any reading material in a matter of seconds, makes them much more likely to read at all — regardless of the speed. This seems particularly true of the iPad — which is a mobile computing platform with diverse functionality that also provides access to Nook, Kindle, and iBooks content.
The study itself used a very small sampling of self-described avid readers. Dr. Jakob Neilsen of the Nielsen Norman Group measured the reading performance of a mere 24 readers across a variety of platforms and found reading speed to be the fastest on traditional printed books.
The average reading speed for the selected material was 17 minutes and 20 seconds across all measured platforms, and comprehension was consistent regardless of the medium used. The study found that readers were 6.2 percent slower — or just over a minute more — reading on an iPad, and 10.7 percent slower — or just under two minutes more — reading on a Kindle 2.
Some of that difference can be written off as the time it takes for a page to render. Turning the page in a book yields instant results, while flipping to the next page in a Kindle 2 or iPad might take a second or two to display clearly. The fact that the iPad has a significantly faster processor than the Kindle might also explain some of the difference in reading speed between the two platforms.
Speaking only for myself and the limited sphere of contacts I know who have a tablet reading device of some sort, the overall volume of reading is increased exponentially over traditional printed books. I have always been a fan of books, and a reliable purchaser of the printed word — but I have an entire library of unread material on my shelves because I just never found (or made) the time to read them.
I estimate that I have read about four times more in the few months I have had the iPad than I did in the entire year previous. I have only had the iPad for three months, so extrapolating that estimate over an entire year would equate to an increase in reading volume of sixteen times.
Reading 6.2 or 10.7 percent slower may have meaning to avid readers, but reading at all is infinitely faster than never reading. It seems to me that the more compelling statistic for tablet reading devices would be to examine the overall reading volume of average — rather than avid — readers when comparing traditional printed material to e-readers.