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GUEST POST: Do E-books Allow Us to Read Books Properly?

Do E-books Allow Us to Read Books Properly? by Cassie

The popularity of e-books has grown over the years. It’s no surprise why e-readers have taken off. You can store thousands of books on a single, easy-to-carry device. Top authors now offer both print and digital versions of their novels. Interestingly, paperback sales have increased by 2.5 percent in 2015. In comparison, e-book sales actually dipped 11.1 percent. With that said, many readers have no qualms reading either format. Still there are a few who strongly prefer one over the other. Perhaps you are a die-hard paperback supporter. Or maybe you prefer the digital format. Whichever you prefer, there are definitely positives and negatives of e-books.


Advantages of E-books

There’s no doubt e-books have changed the way people read, both good and bad. On the plus side, the average e-book reader has read more books in the past year than those who only read print. Readers can place digital books on their smartphones or tablets and read anywhere, whether they’re waiting in line or relaxing on the beach. Thanks to the open environment of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, there are thousands of original e-books users might not otherwise find at their bookstore. Bibliophiles can even get access to books not available in their country by using virtual private network (VPN) software to work around geo-restrictions.

One of the biggest advantages of e-books over traditional ones is the ability to customize font size, style and even darkness. This makes it perfect for people with poor eyesight or reading disorders. A study found dyslexic subjects managed much better with e-books as they were able to format text so they only needed to focus on a single line at a time.

Studies also suggest e-readers boost reading confidence among reluctant young readers as they are more familiar with the technology. Since they cannot see the size of the book, it is visually less daunting to read a 300-page e-book than a physical book of the same size. Since many e-readers come with a built-in dictionary, those with lower reading comprehension or ESL readers can quickly learn the meaning of words in context without having to open a separate dictionary.

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Disadvantages of E-books

All of these might seem like e-books improve our reading capabilities. It certainly has made reading a popular pastime again. However, it comes with its own set of drawbacks. One of the biggest is in recollection. A 2014 study found e-book readers recalled order of events worse than those who read a print version of the same story. The same study found readers were not as emotionally invested in stories when reading digital versus paperback. While it’s unclear why this might be, researchers suggest it might be due to the lack of tactile feedback. With a physical book, readers must physically turn a page and can see their progress as the pages increase on the left side and decrease on the right.

Other researchers suggest a more straightforward reason: shorter reading time. This is especially true when not reading on a dedicated e-reader. There are so many distractions that direct people’s attention away from the book, whether it’s getting a notification about an email or simply browsing the web. People are so used to multitasking with their smartphones and tablets, this habit carries over when reading.

Even when reading without distractions, the amount of time people spend reading a book has decreased. Before e-readers, many people set aside a few hours to read a book. It provided a relaxing experience or routine to help break up a hectic day. Now, many people read books on the go. Instead of hours, they often read books in fifteen to 30-minute bursts in order to fill time. Unfortunately, this leads to poorer reading comprehension and information retention, both of which require long, undisturbed chunks of time.

In addition, many e-book readers tend to skim and hunt for important words or phrases in an F pattern, a habit carried over from reading webpages. While this might provide the basic idea of the action on page, it leaves out a lot of detail. Interestingly, while skimming certainly occurs with physical books, it’s more common with digital. This might be due to the fact that reading on-screen takes 20 to 30 percent longer than reading on paper. Digital readers could be making up for lost time when reading on-screen.

One reason many people approach digital reading habits more casually than regular books is the concept of ownership. When readers buy a physical book they own it. Once exchanged for money, publishers or authors cannot force readers to give up their copy. On the other hand, readers do not own digital books. Instead, they purchase a license for the text. This means the provider—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.—controls the book and can otherwise revoke access or simply remove it from devices. If providers can pull books off a device at will, it might not make much sense to many readers to get too invested.

The question of whether e-books are good or bad for our reading habits has supporters on both sides. At the end of the day, it depends on the reader. Some may find their reading habits improve while others might find their comprehension decrease due to distractions. One thing is clear: digital books won’t replace physical books anytime soon. The world will continue to offer paper and pixels for book lovers around the world.

About the Author: Cassie is a technology and entertainment writer. An avid reader, she’s intrigued by how technological advances have made reading more accessible for many while also creating several disadvantages. 

Follow her on Twitter.   


0 Replies to “GUEST POST: Do E-books Allow Us to Read Books Properly?”

  • Very interesting post! I’ve always thought I retained information from a physical book better than from a digital book (which is why e-textbooks in my college course drive me crazy!). But, there is one benefit of ebooks – or really dedicated ereaders – that I didn’t see in your assessment. They are lighter. For people with health issues, particularly joint issues (like rheumatoid arthritis, which I have), holding a physical book for extended periods of time can be difficult and painful. I love print books. LOVE. But if I’m struggling with a flare, holding a print book is torture, and propping a print book isn’t as easy as propping an ereader. Not something many people have to contend with, but still a tangible benefit for some of us. 🙂

    Great post!

    • Just been buying a book by the esteemed Richard Jefferies, Wild Life In A Southern County. I chose to buy it for my Kobo because firstly it was 82 pence and secondly my Kobo Aura HD is light and small enough to fit in with my camera gear. I must admit I was tempted to buy an old very used 1890s edition but practicality and cost won through. Although I love my Kobo, I do still enjoy the tactile pleasure of quality print books. I have some lovely new and secondhand Folio Society editions which are a joy to handle! At 59 years of age I wonder how much of my love of printed books is down to ‘conditioning’ and familiarity?

  • What a fantastic article! I’ve been wondering about the differences in reading speed and the ability to recall the events more clearly and now I know! Loved the statistics and guesses. I don’t really have a preference for either of the two, but I have noticed some differences myself. Like being able to finish a physical book faster than an e-book. Which is odd, yet confirmed here!

  • I find that these days I actually prefer reading on an e reader. Partly because it’s easier to carry around with me and it’s easier to get books but mostly because of the highlight and note features. I love being able to highlight paragraphs I like or bookmark certain places. I get just as distracted by email and apps when reading a physical book.

  • I have a kindle but I find that I prefer and actual book. I like the feeling of accomplishment of being able to see how much I’ve read and how much further I have to go until I am done. I know e-readers have the page numbers on them but I like to be able to hold the book and actually see my progress. I sounds crazy, but it makes sense to me!

  • I alternate between my Kindle and paperbacks. If I’m beginning a new series, I’ll usually buy the first book on the Kindle store because it’s cheaper. That way if I don’t like it’s hardly any money lost. If I do like it, though, I’ll usually buy the rest of the series in paperback 🙂 My Kindle was also very handy while living in Japan. Many bookstores had a limited English section (understandably) and I needed a credit card to buy things online (Japan still uses cash cards and Amazon gift cards are for only)

  • I tend to prefer physical. Even with a great e-reader (Kindle, after Sony and Kobo died quite soon), and a great, not too bright screen, at good light, I still get tired eyes and an headache from reading from a screen.
    I also noticed that if I read physical copies, I read faster and take in the text better, than I do on my e-reader, maybe something to do with the tired-eyes-headache-problem.

    With e-readers I also do so miss the scent of books, the flipping through the pages, the adding of bright stickers when I want to remember a part in the book, looking at the cover (in the right colours, not in black/white/grey), feeling the book, looking at the book on my shelves.

  • I think it’s fair to say that both ebooks and old fashioned books both have their pros and cons. That’s why it’s nice to be able to choose either or both. One thing I would like about ereading, if I still traveled, is that I could get several books on my one device. I do like being able to access and check out econtent without ever having to go to a library at all. But I still mostly read “real” books.

  • I prefer actual books. I feel more connected to what I am reading, whether it be characters, or the story itself. Anyway, its just a personal opinion, but holding a real book, the smell of the book, and being able to turn the pages, give reading another experience; a real experience!

  • I believe the right way to read is whatever is right for the individual. I love physical books. I love the feel and smell. Holding one takes me back in time; brings back great memories of childhood. But I also have experience with packing for vacation and wanting to take my entire library with me, which is obviously not a thing one can do. Ereaders solve that problem. And like it or not, they have frequent sales on ebooks. I actually use some of those sales to check out books I’m not sure I’ll like and eventually I will buy a physical copy if I enjoy the digital version. As for audiobooks, they are the gift of angels. You can listen to them when your eyes are tired and sore, or when you need your hands for other things. And audiobooks can be the savior of a long drives. Listening to an audiobook is no different than when we were children and listened to books read to us. All of these forms are valid and great in their own way. In my opinion, who cares as long as you get to enjoy a good story!

  • Also ebooks tend to affect eyesight in the long run. I used to get severe migraines and was advised to stop reading ebooks (since i read more than a 100 books a year I tend to spend a lot of time reading). Now my headaches have stopped. But I did NOT know about not owning the ebooks! Damn!

  • A most interesting thoughtful article. Much as I enjoy reading on my e-readers (and enjoy writing for them) I don’t think I will ever favour e-books over the ‘real thing’. The emotional ‘feel’ of touching the pages, turning them and flicking through them is missing from the e-book. Also for some sorts of book, mainly illustrated non-fiction, the e-reader is technologically inadequate for the reading task (in any readers I’ve used anyway).

  • A very interesting post! I think anything that helps people read more is a great thing. As long as people are reading I am happy with them both.
    I have an aunt who loves her e-reader because she can change the text and it works better for her eye sight. I also have a cousin who is reluctant to read but likes to read on the e-reader more than a physical book.
    I personally have a lot of trouble reading ebooks because I get too distracted. I am used to short articles or quick posts on the screen and I can’t fall into a story on a screen as I can on paper. I have read a few ebooks but I will choose a paper book over an e-book every time. I just feel like I am truly caught up in the book that way.
    Plus I adore having multiple bookshelves full of the books I have read all over my apartment!

      • Oops–not Amazon Prime, but Kindle Unlimited, via If you have Kindle Unlimited, Bell Mountain is free. If you just want to order the e-book from, it’s $1.99.

        I’m not trying to go cheap on you, Aman–just looking for the easiest way for you to get the book. I’d help more, but I don’t handle e-books, don’t have a Kindle machine, and don’t understand the technology involved.

        *Sigh* In fact, there’s very little technology that I understand.

  • Excellent post! Enjoyed reading it very much!

    Personally, I use both print books and an e-reader. I prefer printed books for academic work and fantasy novels. On the other side, I somehow like reading Science Fiction on an e-reader – I think it’s because when I was a kid I thought the PADD-s in Star Trek TNG were awesome, and dreamed about the day when something like that would be available. Also, I read a lot of classic literature on an e-reader because most of the classics are in the public domain (due to their age) and can be downloaded for free.

    I must add, however, that I use a dedicated e-reader, without a WiFi connection in order to minimize reading distractions. I also make sure that I never load the e-reader with more than three or four books, and keep my e-library on a PC.

  • I still prefer reading, turning and smelling the pages of real books but I cannot deny that e-books are more travel-friendly and space-saver. Personally, I use e-readers for magazines and some titles that I want to read from time to time but if I find books that captures my attention, I make sure that I buy the real, physical books. 😀

  • Great post!
    Like you said there is no way an e-book could replace a paperback. I must admit however that the flexibility of the e-reader has allowed me. I now own more books without feeling guilty about where I place them, or how to take them with me when I travel. Also like you said, with my bad eyesight, font sizes and screen adjustment help a lot.
    But, it is true that I feel more for the paperbacks I’ve owned for years, than those e-books I got on my e-librabry. It isn’t the amount of time I spend (I’m a fast reader on either format, really), but perhaps the actual feel of flipping pages, and the excitement of seeing the print on the other side of the paper between your fingers.
    No reader can argue the smell of a good book, or the tender touch of the faces of a page. Still, e-readers are more helpful than harmful in my opinion. Especially when you live so far from the prints like I do, and have to wait months and months for the paperback you requested, while it is only a button-click away on your phone or tablet.

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