Print is not dead?

Do you own a Kindle, a device that can deliver a newly released book within 30 seconds — but still can't leave a used bookstore without a bagful of new reads? Do you hate that other people can't tell what you are reading? Or just want to quit looking at an electronic screen every once in a while?

Researchers at The Media Convergence Research Unit of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany published a report this week comparing the efficiency of individuals when reading E-ink readers, tablet PCs, and good old, regular books, with some interesting results.

Kindles vs. Tablet PCs vs. ink and paper

Print is not dead?


Thirty readers were monitored on a neurological level while reading, with brain electrical activity monitored by electroencephalography (EEG) while attention was gauged using eye tracking techniques. In addition to monitoring, participants were asked a series of questions to gauge reading comprehension along with questions pertaining to how they preferred to read. E-ink devices are often thought to supply the same experience as reading a book, while tablet PCs are thought to provide a slightly better experience than reading text on a computer due to automatic dimming controls. In the study, the iPad was chosen to represent tablet PCs, while the Kindle 3 represented E-ink readers.

Print is not dead?

How does E-ink work?
Electrophoretic ink, or E-ink, as used in the Kindle, was initially developed by researchers at the MIT Media Lab. E-ink technology uses microcapsules containing oppositely charged black and white "chips" to reproduce grayscale text when a current is applied, with the text staying in place until the next time a current runs over the microcapsules, allowing the device to take up a small amount of energy and go several weeks without charging. The microcapsules can actually be seen under magnification, and a Red/Blue/Green filter could be placed over the microcapsule layer to produce color images. Using the E-ink process, text can be produced that is easily read in sunlight or other direct light, something difficult to do with a tablet PC and allowing users to take the reader to places a normal book would be common, like the beach or by a swimming pool.

Time to start recycling your books?
The studied observed an increase in ease of comprehension in readers when a tablet PC was used versus an E-ink reader or a book. Older readers also had faster reading times when using a tablet PC. However, this was not observed in readers from younger age groups. No discernible difference in reading performance was noted when comparing an E-ink reader to a book, showing electrophoretic ink devices to be a worthy mimic.

The most interesting aspect of the study, however, came in the subjective portion of the study, which aimed to identify the readers' individual preferences apart from scientific data. Readers overwhelmingly said they preferred to read a book in lieu of an electronic book device. Dr. Matthias Schlesewsky, who designed the study, said:

Almost all of the participants stated that they liked reading a printed book best. This was the dominant subjective response, but it does not match the data obtained from the study.

People just like paper and ink
There may well be advantages to electronic reading forms in terms of comprehension. But people, as a whole, just prefer wood pulp and ink to electronic devices. Rows of books certainly look better on a shelf than a bunch of hard drives, and even if chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble are closing in large numbers, local used bookstores are experiencing a resurgence. Plus, if you fall asleep in bed while reading, a book is a lot less likely to break your nose than a tablet PC.

Images courtesy of Getty, Wallpaperswide, and Amazon.