The E-book Skeptic
Should he learn to read on a kindle?

About the Research


The studies presented on this web site are the fruits of hours of systematic searching through academic databases. Dozens of studies were found that compared reading from a screen to reading from paper. The vast majority of these studies investigated only short-term factual recall. (Obviously short term studies can be done relatively quickly and easily).


The studies collected here are the only studies the e-book skeptic found that investigated longer term memory--24 hours or more--or in-depth understanding. All of these studies concluded that, for comprehension, insight, and memory, reading from a screen is seriously deficient compared to reading from paper.


The e-book skeptic does not claim to have uncovered every study that has investigated the above parameters. But it would be strange indeed if there were a large number of studies that the skeptic did not uncover, and that all of these studies arrived at opposite conclusions. In any case, this site remains open to posting additional studies. Email references to       .


What is the importance of "peer reviewed published research"?


Peer reviewed published research means that these studies have been vetted by other qualified researchers. They have looked into the research methods, the statistics involved, the design of the studies, etc. A different group of researchers signed off on each of these studies before it was published. This means the results of the studies are reliable.


This is something like the clinical trials process that new drugs must go through before they're approved for use. Reading on a screen is not a new drug, but given how important reading is to our culture?


In every case, evidence-based peer reviewed research trumps opinion, anecdote, and observation--which probably accounts for 95% of the media coverage of the e-book phenomenon.


Why Haven't We Heard of These Studies Before?


--Because e-books are being promoted by large businesses that hope to make a lot of money from them?

--Because the people promoting e-books (and reporting on them) assume that everything digital is superior to everything that's not digital? And because their view of the world just does not allow for the possibility that a technology 500 years old could be superior to the latest digital application?

--Because these studies have been published in copyrighted journals that don't show up in google/bing searches, so as far as most journalists are concerned they don't exist?

--All of the above?


What about the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the nook and the ipad? Aren't their screens different from the computer screens these studies have investigated?

 --Yes and no. The Kindle, the Sony Reader and the nook use a process called e-ink that is somewhat different from the display on a computer screen. The ipad uses an enhanced liquid crystal display. These new displays still, however, look and feel much more like a computer screen than a printed page. They are also so new that there are no peer reviewed studies that test their bona fides.


Until these kinds of studies are available--let the buyer (and reader) beware. Given the research presented here, it would not be not unreasonable to assume that these devices share the deficiencies of computer screens. At the very least they should not be used in educational settings until more research has been done.   

Norwegian reading researcher Anne Mangen theorizes that no matter how much screens improve, screen reading will never be as effective as reading from paper. Mangen's research looks at the role our hands play in the experience of reading. She feels that the involvement of the sense of touch--our fingers touching the organic material of paper, turning the pages, etc, deepens our interaction with the text. Holding a piece of plastic and pushing on a plastic surface to turn pages can't compare. See the "Look and Feel" link for more on Anne Mangen's work.

See also "The Kindle flunks out" link for more on the Kindle.