EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: E-Readers vs Paper Books

In yesterday’s Required Readings Librarienne posted a link to a story from The Guardian which reported on a study involving reading comprehension on e-readers compared to printed “pocket” books.  The study which is yet to be published claims that there is a decrease in a person’s ability to reconstruct the plot of the story by putting 14 events in correct order.  The authors hypothesize that the “tactile sense of progress” of pages moving allows the reader to better remember the order of the story.  I am an avid e-book reader and this struck me as curious.  I read my kindle and think I remember the stories just fine.

With the paper not yet published I cannot dissect it and see if there are some red flags, but it is a topic that I find interesting.  There are so many factors that go into comparing e-book readers to printed books, not the least of which is the learning curve about the device itself.  For example if you are unfamiliar with a kindle you might not know that you can flip backward or forward through the book without losing your place.  So if you forget who Mr. Smith was you can flip back through the story just like you would through a paperback, and you don’t even need to do that if you are reading a kindle and it is X-ray enabled.  You can just open that function, find the character and read a series of sentences in which that name appears.  You can then if you want select a sentence and read the entire page.   You can make notes and highlights and then read them in an organized list rather than as a scattering of post-its.   It would be interesting to compare the reading comprehension of people who commonly read e-books to people who commonly read paper books to see if a familiarity with the device makes a difference.

I think from the paragraph above you can clearly see my bias and I haven’t even mentioned the accessibility features of many e-books.  The only real negative that I currently see, and this is only with certain books, is that they are not properly formatted as an e-book and often times images and figures are out of whack.

So today’s question is this: In your experience are paper books superior to e-books?  Have you seen a difference in reading comprehension between e-books and paper books?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

Featured Image Kindle and a book by Mobil Yazilar

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.


  1. August 20, 2014 at 7:54 pm —

    I use an ereader for both my reading for pleasure and for my textbooks. The only issue I have ever had is finding a page from the index, and that was poor execution of the ebook. Otherwise I have noted no difference between my own understanding of plots or topics between the two, and I have ample experience with both. I would very much want to see the study, because I can’t see why a paper book is better for comprehension than an ebook.

  2. August 21, 2014 at 9:47 am —

    I have a kindle and I do enjoy using it but there is just something about holding a book and smelling that new book smell. I absolutely cannot read anything technical on the kindle. I need to be able to write, highlight, and flip between pages easily and I cannot do that with my kindle. I love to read science fiction I have already read on my kindle because then I don’t have to store the book. Silly I know.
    I see no difference in comprehension of what I read but I cannot (as I stated before) do technical books on the kindle. Does that count?

  3. August 24, 2014 at 8:38 pm —

    Without question an ereader. Not a kindle, since I prefer to control what’s on my reader rather than have Amazon decide that for me. It’s mostly about weight for me, I read fairly fast and the idea of lugging my current fiction book, current non-fiction book and a spare around wore off about a week after I got my first ereader. The backlight on my current kobo is hugely better than earlier ones, making it quite easy to read in low light without needing a torch (an advantage I’m liking more as time goes by).

    I can’t imagine going on holiday with paper books any more, that would be awful. It was bad enough recently when I ran out of books (loaded up on some magazines I’d bought, discovered that I didn’t like 90% of the content, the couple of issues I’d read prior were not typical). So I ended up buying a few second hand books and suffering through lugging paper about the place. Di not like!

  4. August 25, 2014 at 4:40 pm —

    I have gone through something like 10 books in the last two weeks. The “cost” by itself for those books, if I had bought them from a store would have left me buying only 3, maybe, and then there is the bloody stupid fact that its ever harder to find out about pre-orders, or make one, or just find the next book in a series you started, or even **if**, never mind when, there is a new one out… Mind, the latter is still slightly annoying, since you can’t, say, flag the series/author, to give you announcements of new releases, that I can tell, but at least you can pop up one of the old books, scroll past the last page, and, on Kindle at least, have it pop up a list of, “Other books by this author.”, and, “Recommendations, based on your purchases/what book in the store you are looking at.” Regular book stores where *never* any good at this, at all, ever, unless you where one of the “Top 50” freaks, who thought that anything in that category was a “must have”, and everything else was just taking up shelf space.

    And, yeah, not noticing a huge problem with my reading comprehension, or plot following. Maybe they need to do this study again, comparing people that spent lots and lots of time reading regular books, never played a computer game, or touched anything on a computer with a story to it, etc., and the people that have. My own bet, just off the top of my head, is that the problem is one of experience in the medium – i.e., if you are used to pure paper content, and have never had to follow events via any system where the results are less linear, but mostly less tactile, you might have a problem with it. Otherwise…

    Oh, and to be clear, Moz, if you are dealing with anything at all with DRM, or an online store, there is a chance, how ever slim, that they can, and may, nuke content on you, due to some legal hassle or other stupid thing going on. The answer for that is the same as it is with Kindle – download Calibre, then convert you book from the DRM version, back into what ever non-DRM version is for your ereader, then use that copy. The benefit being that, even if they nuke the original book on you, they would have to nuke all non-DRM content, along with lots of legit works, to delete your “non-DRM unauthorized” one, which would do them no good, because you still have the copy on your own computer at home, just not conveniently in their cloud. But, seriously, I doubt any ereader, if you expect to be able to buy anything through it, is get anything that isn’t free, is without this issue. Its just that Amazon is a bigger target for the sort of lawsuits, and double dealing that has resulted in some cases of content being pulled by some stupid publisher or other. And, other than the DRM, even with Kindle, you can copy the books to your computer, so its only an issue of the update system they have keep trying to kill the copy they decide you shouldn’t have. With the DRM gone, that’s not a problem any more.

    Minor caveat: I haven’t tried it myself, yet, so I am not sure what the converter is likely to do to the formatting, or the like. I do know a few books I would love to fix the formatting, or the indexing (which is broken in some links in it), and such with though, if I ever bothered to waste my time hunting down the defects in an editable, converted, version… :p

    • August 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm —

      I agree that the issue with reading comprehension has to be related to be related to experience with the medium.

      There is something I use to keep track of the books I read and up coming books in a series and that is This will send you an email once a month telling you what books are coming out that month from authors that you have read. Also if you look at an author’s page they often have books, especially in a series that are not yet published. They also say the estimated publishing year, which is not great, but is something.

      One final plug is for it is a free service that gives you an email every day for free or discounted e-books. A lot of the books are from independent writers, and are often the first book of a series. I have found a number of authors that I love and who does not love finding a new series that is already finished being written.

      • August 28, 2014 at 2:25 am —

        Yeah, we wouldn’t want the service you buy the book from to be anything close to as convenient as a brick and mortar “dead tree” building, where you know the guy behind the desk, or anything.. lol Seriously, I have been to some of those, and.. they often “don’t have” some of the series I want to track. In fact, a few of them may, at the moment, be run almost entirely via Amazon, in a few cases.

        Personally, I just don’t get it. I would think that they would want to make the service easier to work with, and it more likely for you to buy the next book out. Guess I just don’t comprehend their genius. :p

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