Do E-books Allow Us to Read Books Properly? by Cassie
The popularity of e-books has grown over the years. It’s no surprise why e-readers have taken off. You can store thousands of books on a single, easy-to-carry device. Top authors now offer both print and digital versions of their novels. Interestingly, paperback sales have increased by 2.5 percent in 2015. In comparison, e-book sales actually dipped 11.1 percent. With that said, many readers have no qualms reading either format. Still there are a few who strongly prefer one over the other. Perhaps you are a die-hard paperback supporter. Or maybe you prefer the digital format. Whichever you prefer, there are definitely positives and negatives of e-books.
Advantages of E-books
There’s no doubt e-books have changed the way people read, both good and bad. On the plus side, the average e-book reader has read more books in the past year than those who only read print. Readers can place digital books on their smartphones or tablets and read anywhere, whether they’re waiting in line or relaxing on the beach. Thanks to the open environment of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, there are thousands of original e-books users might not otherwise find at their bookstore. Bibliophiles can even get access to books not available in their country by using virtual private network (VPN) software to work around geo-restrictions.
One of the biggest advantages of e-books over traditional ones is the ability to customize font size, style and even darkness. This makes it perfect for people with poor eyesight or reading disorders. A study found dyslexic subjects managed much better with e-books as they were able to format text so they only needed to focus on a single line at a time.
Studies also suggest e-readers boost reading confidence among reluctant young readers as they are more familiar with the technology. Since they cannot see the size of the book, it is visually less daunting to read a 300-page e-book than a physical book of the same size. Since many e-readers come with a built-in dictionary, those with lower reading comprehension or ESL readers can quickly learn the meaning of words in context without having to open a separate dictionary.
Disadvantages of E-books
All of these might seem like e-books improve our reading capabilities. It certainly has made reading a popular pastime again. However, it comes with its own set of drawbacks. One of the biggest is in recollection. A 2014 study found e-book readers recalled order of events worse than those who read a print version of the same story. The same study found readers were not as emotionally invested in stories when reading digital versus paperback. While it’s unclear why this might be, researchers suggest it might be due to the lack of tactile feedback. With a physical book, readers must physically turn a page and can see their progress as the pages increase on the left side and decrease on the right.
Other researchers suggest a more straightforward reason: shorter reading time. This is especially true when not reading on a dedicated e-reader. There are so many distractions that direct people’s attention away from the book, whether it’s getting a notification about an email or simply browsing the web. People are so used to multitasking with their smartphones and tablets, this habit carries over when reading.
Even when reading without distractions, the amount of time people spend reading a book has decreased. Before e-readers, many people set aside a few hours to read a book. It provided a relaxing experience or routine to help break up a hectic day. Now, many people read books on the go. Instead of hours, they often read books in fifteen to 30-minute bursts in order to fill time. Unfortunately, this leads to poorer reading comprehension and information retention, both of which require long, undisturbed chunks of time.
In addition, many e-book readers tend to skim and hunt for important words or phrases in an F pattern, a habit carried over from reading webpages. While this might provide the basic idea of the action on page, it leaves out a lot of detail. Interestingly, while skimming certainly occurs with physical books, it’s more common with digital. This might be due to the fact that reading on-screen takes 20 to 30 percent longer than reading on paper. Digital readers could be making up for lost time when reading on-screen.
One reason many people approach digital reading habits more casually than regular books is the concept of ownership. When readers buy a physical book they own it. Once exchanged for money, publishers or authors cannot force readers to give up their copy. On the other hand, readers do not own digital books. Instead, they purchase a license for the text. This means the provider—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.—controls the book and can otherwise revoke access or simply remove it from devices. If providers can pull books off a device at will, it might not make much sense to many readers to get too invested.
The question of whether e-books are good or bad for our reading habits has supporters on both sides. At the end of the day, it depends on the reader. Some may find their reading habits improve while others might find their comprehension decrease due to distractions. One thing is clear: digital books won’t replace physical books anytime soon. The world will continue to offer paper and pixels for book lovers around the world.
About the Author: Cassie is a technology and entertainment writer. An avid reader, she’s intrigued by how technological advances have made reading more accessible for many while also creating several disadvantages.
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