July 12, 2010
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84 seconds

There’s lots of flutter about a new Jakob Nielsen study that again finds a familiar result: people don’t read as quickly on the screen (including iPads and Kindles) as they do on paper. This has been getting lots of press; one Readercon speaker, for example, cited the result (misattributed to “Harvard”‚ as suggesting that eBooks might be a mere fad.

88 sec

What we need to keep in mind, however, is that the differences were so small as to be barely measurable. The 24 users took 17 minutes and 20 seconds to finish a Hemingway short story. iPad and Kindle readers saved about 88 seconds per story.

If a book contains a dozen short stories, reading it a screen might cost you, by these figures, perhaps twenty minutes. In much of the US, it will take you more then twenty minutes to get to the bookstore or the library, grab the book, and get home again. (Yes, the book might not be available for your reader, but it might not be available in your bookstore.)

The real headline is: a top-notch usability expert with twenty-year track record of studying reading speed in eBooks is barely able to detect a difference between books and eBooks, and cannot detect any difference between iPad and Kindle.