Reading on Kindles vs Printed Books

Jakob Nielsen has been conducting reading comprehension tests among a variety of reading devices. He says people can read books fastest in printed book form. But, people seem to find the experiences fairly comparable:

[On a 1-7 scale, the] iPad, Kindle, and the printed book all scored fairly high at 5.8, 5.7, and 5.6, respectively. The PC, however, scored an abysmal 3.6.

I completely agree with the PC based book reading experience as it exists today. The Kindle for the Mac is surprisingly unusable compared to actual Kindles, Kindle for iPhones/iPod Touches, or Kindle for Android devices. Plus, it’s very difficult to read a book when there are so many other distractions on a computer.

Nielsen’s tests suggest that people can read faster on books in printed form. However, I think that result will vary tremendously based on how familiar people are with reading on an electronic device. Also, picking the most comfortable font size, font face, brightness, and contrast will make a huge difference. A person with poor vision will clearly have better luck reading on a device where they can blow up the text to something easier to read.

In my own case, I’m sure I can read more effectively on my Kindle for Android app than I can in book form. Why? Because I get around to doing 90% of my book reading either in the dark, or at times when I don’t have a printed book with me.

The Blind Respond to the Author's Guild Kindle Position

One of the Amazon Kindle’s really cool features is the built-in text to voice service, which allows people to consume the books they’ve purchased in situations where they can’t read. One group that is particularly interested in this feature is the blind, which benefit from greater access to books.

However, the Author’s Guild has opposed this technology under the theory that this could cut into the sales of audio books. To me, this sounds ridiculous because the quality of a computer reading a book is in no way comparable to an audio book production.

Regardless, Amazon caved to the Author’s Guild request by allowing publishers to make their Kindle formatted books inaccessible to the blind by disabling the built-in text to speech technology.

Now, the National Federation of the Blind is reacting to the Author’s Guild’s position.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB – the largest organization of blind and low-vision people in the US) and its partners in the Reading Right Coalition (made up of over 25 organizations, representing 15 million Americans who cannot read print because of blindness, dyslexia, spinal cord injury and other print disabilities) will gather outside the offices of the Authors Guild in hopes to reverse the Guild’s threat to disable text-to-speech from e-books for the Kindle 2, which had promised for the first time easy and mainstream access to over 255,000 books.

It’s generally not a good thing for content creators to turn their fans into enemies. Hasn’t the Author’s Guild learned anything from the RIAA on this topic?

Hopefully the Author’s Guild will come to their senses and realize that it’s in the best interest of authors to allow the blind to legally purchase copies of books in Amazon Kindle format for the Kindle 2, and then consume those legally purchased books using the Kindle’s text to speech technology.

Amazon Kindle Book Pricing Number Fudge


I’m a huge Amazon fan, but as I mentioned earlier, I have my doubts about the Kindle ebook reader. Here’s an example of why I think Amazon has some doubts about the Kindle too.

Check out the pricing examples for current NY Times bestsellers compared to hardcovers. This comes from the Kindle page of Amazon’s site earlier today:

Amazon Kindle Book Pricing

Three popular books. All for more than 60% below the hardcover price. Impressive, right?

I don’t think so.

If Amazon wanted to give a more HONEST example of Kindle ebook pricing, they would have compared the Kindle book prices to what those NY Times bestsellers cost in hardcover form on their own site.

It turns out that Amazon sells brand new hardcover versions for $16-17 for the titles mentioned above.

This is a significant difference, because it more than doubles (almost triples) the number of titles one would need to purchase before one breaks even on the Kindle.

Also, notice that the current USED price for the title mentioned above is only $2-6 below the NEW price. In theory, this means you could buy a new copy and sell it to someone else for a net of half of the Kindle. You can’t sell – or even give your Kindle version to a friend.

The audio CD version of Colbert’s book, which costs more new than the Kindle or hardcover version, IS reselling for $4 below retail, so also a better value play.

So, while there certainly are reasons why someone would buy a Kindle, I’m ruling out the cost savings as one of them.