E-books take longer to read than print, study says

While e-book reader manufacturers have done everything they can to mimic the experience of paper and ink, a study says it will take the reader longer to finish an e-book than its print counterpart.

Jacob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group tested three different e-book methods -- the PC, the Kindle 2, and the iPad -- and then compared them to reading a regular book. A short story by Ernest Hemigway was read by 24 different test subjects.

Nielsen found that those reading the e-book version were as much as ten percent slower than those who read the printed version. Those who read the story on the PC took even more time, and universally rated by participants as the worst way to read.

There was some difference between the iPad and the Kindle: for unknown reasons, the iPad was faster at 6.2 percent slower versus 10.7 for the Kindle. However, Nielsen dismissed the difference as "statistically insignificant" due to high variability in the data.

An average of 17 minutes and 20 seconds was spent reading Hemingway's missive. "Asking users to read 17 minutes or more is enough to get them immersed in the story," Nielsen said.

On top of reading, users were asked to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 7. Both the iPad and Kindle were liked about the same with ratings of 5.8 and 5.7 respectively. However, the PC lagged far behind, receiving a 3.6. Some said reading on a PC felt like being at work.

While the study may seem to suggest that e-books are not up to par with print just yet, there may be some problems with the study that could be exaggerating the read times. First off, the study is very small which may not account for all the different types of readers.

Second, it is unknown how these participants were selected, and if it was done using accepted practices to ensure studies are representative of the public at large. Finally, we do not see how age affects reading speed. It may not be too out of the question to expect youth to be able to read faster since they are much more acclimated to reading off computer screens than their older counterparts.

Regardless, it speaks well for the future of e-books despite the slower reading times. User satisfaction with reading on e-book devices -- with the exception of the PC -- was higher than printed books, Nielsen said.

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