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How we read ebooks: A new digital-versus-print development

How we read ebooks: A new digital-versus-print development

How we read ebooks: A new digital-versus-print development

Recently the Guardian reported on a study on retention of digital reads versus paper reads. Researchers gave participants an Elizabeth George short story. Twenty-five readers read the story in a paperback novel format. Twenty-five read it on a Kindle. Afterwards, the academics tested the readers’retention of objects, characters and settings.

Researcher Anne Mangen of Stavanger University, Norway, told the Guardian:

‘The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.’

The reason suggested? The difference in the way we read on an ereader – its‘haptic and tactile feedback’. Anne Mangen suggests:

‘… the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.’

The research is part of a European-wide effort tolook into how digitisation affects the reading of text, which so far has indicated that reader on screen may ‘negatively impact cognitive and emotional aspects of reading’.

Fascinating, don’t you think? I read on paper and on my ereader, and my books are published in both formats. Personally, I prefer paper for a closer, more thoughtful read, and digital for lighter reading. I think there is, as the research suggests, a sense that digital reading is quicker, easier; but, ultimately, less careful. Do I take in as many details? Can I perfectly reconstruct the order of plot points? Do I engage quite so well with the characters? Is my emotional response as rich? I think not. Do you agree?

For me, the digital medium speaks of the ‘now-now’ attitude of the modern world: read quickly, easily, and then press on to the next book. Perhaps it also speaks of the ‘throw-away’ culture; fifty years ago objects were imbued with sentiment and much value, and were items to treasure, but today, with the proliferation of cheap, mass-produced products, people consume much more and discard with little thought those items they’ve consumed.

I do value the ereader; I do believe it has a place. But studies such as this show that it cannot sound the death knell of the print book; screen can never obliterate paper entirely. Students, for example, have been shown to digest and retain paper-based material much more effectively than e-material.

When I want to really enjoy a book, I read it on paper. When I’m happy to be a little less connected – reading on a plane, for example, or reading a light book – the ereader suits me fine. I wonder how many others feel the same way, are cognizant of the difference in how they read via the two mediums. Some, no doubt, do connect better to ebooks; the assumption is that the more you read digitally, the more your mind becomes accustomed to that format.

The only option, then, it seems to me is the current state of play in publishing. Publish your novel as an ebook, and as a paperback. And for those who really enjoy the experience of the physical book, add that extra medium, as my publisher has for The Echoes of Love: a hardback edition. Such a treat to read!

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