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Is Reading On A Kindle/iPad Really Slower?

A very recent study by the Neilsen Norman Group purports to show that people reading on either a Kindle or an iPad read slower (10.7% and 6.2% respectively) than reading the same physical book. To test, they asked 25 people to read a short story by Ernest Hemingway on either a PC, Kindle, iPad or in book form. Interestingly enough, even though the Kindle/iPad users read slower, they had higher, slightly, satisfaction scores then the book.

Aside from the obvious “is 25 people enough to draw any kind of conclusion from” question, others also springs to mind. Such as, everyone is used to reading from a book but not from an electronic device, was this taken into account? Could unfamiliarity with the reading media account for slightly slower speeds? In the case of the Kindle, since it takes about a second to ‘turn’ the page, I’d say someone unfamiliar with it would definitely slow down until they figure out when to actually push the ‘Next Page’ button. That would also explain why the iPad would be a bit faster. And what about getting the text set just right for reading? Everyone will be different, did the subjects have the chance to personalize their devices?

The summary report above says that all subjects were familiar with the primary skill needed: reading. Well and good, but I still say not selecting for people used to reading on an electronic device will necessarily slow people down until they figure out how to use it best for them and configure it correctly.

After all that I have to say that this study doesn’t really show that reading in non-book form is actually slower, and even 10% isn’t that much slower. I bet that if you gave those same people the chance to use their device for a week or so and then tested them you’d see something different.

I know anecdotally, in my case, my reading doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all using my Kindle. Has anyone noticed any difference in reading speed?

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

16 Comments on Is Reading On A Kindle/iPad Really Slower?

  1. Very valid questions.  I would agree that the 10% difference would vanish if given a week or two to use the devices.  I wonder who paid for this study?

  2. euphrosyne // July 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm //

    Well, it’s a small sample size, but I wouldn’t be surprised if further research bore this initial claim out, more or less. Certainly, page turning by itself wouldn’t account for a 10% decrease. There are some plausible cognitive neuroscientific explanations. Contrast is lower than good quality paper. Paragraph indents are shallower. Effective resolution of print is vastly higher than either device, and those pixels make a difference, in the same way that it’s easier/faster to read serif fonts than sans serif–serifs can be subtle and the Kindle’s 167ppi just can’t reproduce the 1200+ppi of professional printing…


  3. Not my personal experience. I read faster on iPad than with paper.

  4. I’m taking longer to read books on my Kindle, but I think that has more to do with the texts I choose than the format. Over the weekend I read Kitty Goes to War in book form and continued reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Verne is a lot more intelletually dense than Vaughn, so I would have to do a comparison of the same text to see the actual difference in my reading speed.

  5. Maybe it is slower – but I’ve taken to putting books on my iphone over my kindle/paper copies lately because even if I am reading it slower (which I don’t agree with) – I don’t always have a paperback with me (remember when pocketbooks fit in a pocket?? Now a days the only pocket they fit in is a pouch…but I digress), and I don’t always want to be carrying around the “bulk” of a kindle v.1.0, but that iphone? its with me anyway – so I catch a few pages here, a few pages there, I’m still reading the book faster overall than if I was relegated only to the times it was convenient to have the larger format.

  6. C Bryant // July 8, 2010 at 3:37 pm //

    I started out putting books on my Samsung Blackjack and realized that I read through them faster than I did on paper.  Once I upgraded to a dedicated Sony Reader I seemed to read just as quickly as with my phone.  The bigger problem is that I am constantly scrolling through pages because I read them so quickly.  

  7. This is just one study of very, very many.  For a much more in-depth treatment of this issue read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

  8. Interesting. I don’t own an eReader because I get so many books in the mail and haven’t had the need for one yet. But I’d love to have one for traveling. But I don’t know that anyone can draw any conclusions just yet. Besides, we’ll all be reading on one sooner or later– don’t you think? I expect we’ll all adapt. 

  9. There are many factors that such a “study” would have to take into account, and honestly, Neilson can’t live up to their own hype so are not likely the folks to successfully pull it off. The simple fact that they are only measuring reading speed as if it is were a sprint shows where their heads are buried. Some examples of what a useful study might include:

    • Font size. Choosing a larger font will mean more page turns, meaning more of those 1 second delays. Compounded over an average short story length (5-7k words) that alone could slow down the e-book read speed. Also related to what euphrosyne mentioned, if larger font sizes are used the impact coming from less contrast and lower ppi resolution is somewhat reduced.
    • As Michael mentioned above, is speed really relative to an individual story or should it be measured overall? It’s possible some people would finish a short story, something usually done in one sitting, faster with a real book. But what about overall reading across multiple sessions on an ebook reader versus books in general? Because of portability and being able to carry more than one book at a time, on average I’m getting more overall reading time in per day with my Kindle than I used to with books. Significantly more. So novels will get read faster on the e-reader (at least in my case) simply because I read more often throughout the day, thanks to the convenience.
    • Text-to-speech (Kindle). Yes I know the study was about actually reading, but don’t discount T2S as a factor that should be considered just yet. The one and only reason I will not consider switching to another e-reader or back to paper books is text-to-speech. I spend 2 hours a day in the car by myself commuting. With T2S I just plug the Kindle into the car stereo and let the book pick up reading to me right where I left off. I read it just like a book on breaks, lunches, etc., then back to T2S for the drive home. As in the previous bullet, 2 hours extra ‘reading’ time a day that a book could never give me means much faster overall novel completion.
    • What about retention? Supposing the reason for reading is to retain something, then any measurement of the efficacy of e-reading versus paper perusing should see if there are any differences there as well. Getting done 10% sooner with a 15% reduction in retention would suck (not saying that’s really the case).
    • One negative about the speed of reading on an e-reader has to do with interuptions. I’ve had my Kindle 2 since the first month they were released, and in all that time I cannot think of a single day when some stranger has not come up to me and asked “Hey, is that one of those electronic books?” and the next 20 minutes is spend giving a demo and wiping their drool off the screen. That can impact overall reading speed.

    One last note, sneaking e-books into the house so the wife doesn’t know how much you’re spending on a voracious reading habit is SO much easier than with paper books. Marital bliss has no price tag or comparison point. 🙂

  10. I have a nook, and I think my reading rate is probably marginally slower on it than it is for paper books.

    I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but off the top of my head — I’m a natural speed reader, and I think the mechanism of the e-reader slows me down a little.  I haven’t read enough on the nook to judge whether it affects my retention rate, which I think is normally pretty high.

    That’s something that would be interesting to find out, but I find myself wondering how they judged this stuff.

    You make *excellent* points about configuration, JP.

  11. I’m not sure humans are good at judging small (6%?) changing in reading speed.  Think about it, in an hour and a half of reading you’d only get 5 minutes less reading done.  That’s hard to notice.

    I would believe that I read slower on the iPad than physical books.  I find myself more easily distracted (at least for now) by the novelty.  I also had to spend a good amount of time figuring out the font size that worked best for me, the background color I like, the brightness setting that fits the ambient light, the best way to hold the thing to avoid fatigue, etc. Maybe after a couple more months I’ll have it optimized.  Then you can test my reading speed.

  12. What I find irritating is that this particular study did not cite to, and did not  rely upon. two decades of larger-scale studies that reached the same conclusion:

    Reading, and other fine-distinction visual tasks, from a refractive (backlit, whether formally or informally) matrix are about 10-12% slower than reading from a reflective matrix (where ambient light provides the contrast), with projected images somewhere in between.

    Nothing (new) to see here, citizens. Move along.

  13. I agree with Athena that Carr’s “The Shallows” offers the best in-depth discussion and analysis pf reading in the electronic age currently available. It may be that “deep reading” was an anomaly in human history.

    Reading speed is important (or is it?) but there is a trade-off between speed and comprehension and understanding. So long as the e-version of a book is not cluttered up with distracting links or additional content outside of the original words, I see no reason or there to be much of a difference in reading speed between a traditional book and an e-book.

  14. Dawfydd // July 11, 2010 at 2:05 am //

    MY personal experience, using the (admittedly quite basic) Elonex E-Book is that my reading speed drops dramatically compared to reading a paper book. Admittedly, my perspective is somewhat skewed (an average paperback takes me around two hours, if that), but on the e-reader it takes roughly double the time to read an average book, if not longer.

    This I attribute to the following factors:

    Font size- in most cases the default iamge the reader creates is too small, requiring use of the magnification feature which in tun increases the effective page count. This neatly leads to..

    Turning pages- taken for granted when reading paper books, on the e-reader it takes several seconds to load a new page.

    Translation errors- very occasionally an e-book will load up and the layout will be messed up. This can be as simple as some punctuation missing, to paragraphs & chapters running into one another. Not a big issue, but it does mean you have to focus more on what you are reading….

    All in all though I consider these minor inconviniences compared to the portability that the e-reader offers. I still buy man (many) paper books, but the e-reader is always to hand if I go anywhere and it’s so nice to not find myself lugging around several individual books in my luggage if travelling…. 



  15. I am a super fast reader to begin with. I love my Kindle precisely for that reason as when I finish a book at 11:00 at night I can buy a new one with the click of a button.  I feel like my reading speed is the same.  I do know it took about a week for me to get used to the Kindle.  My mom is a fast reader as well and she did note when she got her Kindle, that the “page” doesn’t show as many words as a small print book so you do turn the page more often.  That might have an effect.  (Also as noted above if you set to larger font)  Of course over time the large font may allow people to read more comfortably, especially folks with vision impairments, age, etc. If you can read more comfortable, you can read longer and enjoy it more.

    Oh, and I love not having to try to get my book to stay open.  My Kindle always lays flat.  I fight the good fight with paperbacks trying to get them to open flat.

  16. I’ve been wondering exactly the same thing.  I got a Sony about two months ago, and I probably was slower at first.  There’s so many buttons and things to play with (to zoom or not to zoom, rotate horizontal or vertical? and is it faster to push a button to turn the page, or use the touch screen?).  So yes, I probably read a bit slower at first.

    But after the learning curve (which isn’t that steep), I think I”m just as fast as with a paper book. And my 3-year old can’t yank the bookmark out on me (though I wish the device had a lock feature, because the same 3-year old is quite proficient at pushing buttons).

    As you suggested, someone should do the same trial with people who are already comfortable with their e-readers (give them a few days to play, or sample folks who already own them).

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