E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve.
E-readers, and the ebooks that populate them currently make up 15-20% of all U.S. trade book sales. But research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages. Since the 1980s researchers in many fields, including psychology, computer engineering, and library and information science, have investigated and researched the differences between reading on-screen and on paper. Over a hundred studies have been published and the findings have been intriguing.
Before 1992 studies found that reading was slower, less accurate and resulted in lower overall comprehension when text was on the screen compared to text on paper. After the early 90s, however, studies have come to inconsistent conclusions. Almost half of the studies found few significant differences in reading speed and comprehension, a contradiction to earlier studies. Recent studies have found that even though most participants prefer paper, their attitude has improved as the e-reading technology has advanced. Evidence shows that on-screen reading still does not recreate the tactile experiences of reading on paper. A touch screen device is less tangible than paper. When reading a paper book the reader can feel the paper and ink. People expect books to weigh, smell and look differently. An e-reader stays the same no matter the reading matrial.
A few recent studies suggest that reading comprehension is impaired on-screen due to the inability to navigate through the text. In a book, a reader can flip to a page rather than scrolling through a never-ending line of text. People also report that they just simply enjoy physically flipping through a book or using a chemical highlighter to physically mark text, a whim that scientists say, show the need of physical control. New, emerging studies are emphasizing that along with screens possibly using more attention to read than paper, people may not necessarily bring as much mental effort at a subconscious level due to the attitude that on-screen reading is less work and less serious than reading on paper.
Currently, engineers, designers and use-interface experts are working hard to make reading on e-readers and tablets as close to reading on paper as possible. On the Kindle, e-ink looks close to chemical ink and the layout of the screen looks like a paperback page. The Apple iBooks attempt to simulate the overall aesthetic of paperbooks (Ex: semi-realistic page turning). Even with these advances, studies say that when it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read. Todays digital natives, people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age, still interact with a mix of paper and on-screen text proving that using one kind of technology does not preclude them from understanding another.
e-Reader stats via ‘The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens‘