Caveat: I’m a primarily digitally published author here, I’ll say that flat out. As such, I bristle when I hear people referring to print books as the “real” books or the “actual” books—because it always seems to me as if this ignores the fact that an ebook takes every bit as much effort to write and prepare for publishing as a print book does, and that an ebook can provide entertainment every bit as real as the entertainment you get by reading a print book. Because of this, I make a very specific point of avoiding “real” or “actual” when referring to a print book vs. a digital one. I stick to “print” or “physical” for a physical book, and “digital” or “electronic” for an ebook. Or I just say “print book” and “ebook”.
Now, my bias as a primarily digitally published author aside, I’d like to call out what I think is problematic about these articles, and what isn’t. I’m a big fan of SCIENCE! But in this case, I think the science was ignoring important data.
First thing: I’m seeing an annoying lack of comprehension about what you can and cannot do with an ereader. For example, the mic.com article says:
While e-readers try to recreate the sensation of turning pages and pagination, the screen is limited to one ephemeral virtual page. Surveys about the use of e-readers suggest that this affects a reader's serendipity and sense of control. The inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one's sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text.This presents only part of the picture. On smaller devices, yes, you can only read one page at once. But via other digital means of reading, you are not. Every single computer-based reading app I’ve played with (the Kindle, Kobo, and Nook desktop apps) allow you to see two pages at once. Ditto for the apps I’ve used on my iPad.
Likewise, every single reader or app I’ve played with is perfectly capable of returning to previous pages—either through gestures like tapping or swiping, by using a slider to return to a previous position in the book, or by using a numeric control to jump straight to a specified page number.
And while I haven’t personally played with the functionality, I know for a fact that the ability to leave highlights and notes on what you’re reading is functionality provided in several apps and on several devices. The loss of that data is one of the big reasons why people complained so loudly during the uproar a few years ago when Amazon yoinked copies of 1984 off of people’s Kindles—copies of the book that, granted, were not authorized to be published in the first place, but nonetheless, people had been leaving notes and highlights on them.
You can do all sorts of manipulation of text on various devices and in various apps, too. You can change font size. You can change the actual font. If you’re on a desktop app, a tablet, or a phone, you can often also change the color scheme of what you’re reading if you don’t like black-on-white.
Now, let me address some of the ideas here that strike me as more viable.
I do buy the idea of avoiding having a backlit device as your reading material if you’re inclined to read in bed. It seems plausible to me that interfering with your body’s circadian rhythms by having a strong light around when you’re supposed to be gearing down for sleep could be problematic. Not to mention that if your reading device of choice is a tablet or a phone, chances are high you’ve got it set up to do other things as well—email, social media, games, etc. So the chances are high that you’ll be more distracted by, say, the urge to check Facebook one more time, or answering one more email, or playing one more level on Gummy Drop. (This would be exactly why I keep my devices away from my bed. *^_^*;;)
The mic.com article also talks about the “F” pattern of people’s Internet reading, citing a study from 2006. I’ve heard of this via other sources, so this isn’t out of left field. However, I take some issue with the idea that this applies to reading digital novels.
Speaking from my own personal experience, I can testify that long before ebooks came along, I read so many books that oftentimes, if a book wasn’t holding my attention strongly enough, I skimmed over what I was reading until I found the next thing in the story that actively engaged my attention. Likewise, if it’s by an author I adore, I am perfectly capable of immersing myself in a digital novel, and remembering my favorite parts of it long after I’ve read the last few words. Jim Butcher, Mira Grant, C.E. Murphy, Julie Czerneda, and many other authors are all authors who trigger in me that all-important MUST KEEP READING CANNOT PUT BOOK DOWN reaction in me.
Whether I’m reading them in digital, or in print.
I don’t want to re-ignite the print vs. digital debate here—that’s not my overall point. As I’ve said before many times, on my own site and elsewhere, print has its advantages. So does digital. I like my ereader for its lack of weight and its ease of carrying on my commute. I like my print library for being available reading during a power outage (and if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do, you know how often we lose power during the winter here). And I still appreciate the beauty of a well-constructed physical book, which for my money is still the best way to present illustrations. (For example, I adore my copy of Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin, which has amazing art in it. And even the font choices are beautiful.)
My overall point here being this: if you’re going to do a study of how readers of print vs. readers of digital interact with what they’re reading, show some awareness of how digital reading actually works. And include some studies of people who regularly use the functionality that digital reading provides, too.
Like, say, me. But I acknowledge I’m a bit of an outlier—in a good year I read upwards of 100 books, in both digital and print forms. What’s important to me is the story itself. To paraphrase John Scalzi, asking me if I like my favorite book in print or digital form is like asking me if I like my favorite soda in a bottle or a can. It’s still my favorite soda.
And while I grant that my reading habits were built by decades of slurping up every print book I could get my hands on, still, I’d like to see readers like me considered when studying the overall trend of print vs. digital reading. I know I’m not alone in the SF/F and romance genres, either.
Now if y’all will excuse me, I’ve got a Kat Richardson novel to finish!
Angela Korra’ti, a.k.a. Angela Highland, has a lifetime goal of reading All The Books. And when she’s not reading everybody else's books, she's writing her own! Her next book Bone Walker is due in February 2015, and Victory of the Hawk, Book 3 of the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy, drops in April 2015! Come say hi to her at angelahighland.com, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.