Speed Demon

A recent study by Useit.com has concluded that reading on an e-reading device is, on average, slower than reading a traditional book. The study used a Kindle, an iPad, a book and a PC for the study. The participants were given a comprehension test at the end to make sure all readers were understanding what they read, but were apparently no differences between formats for comprehension. Snip:

The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print … Users felt that reading the printed book was more relaxing than using electronic devices. And they felt uncomfortable with the PC because it reminded them of work.

Aside from the fact that the study was only conducted on 24 people, and reasonable margins of error mean that they can’t say for sure which device is faster, what does a study of this kind mean for readers? Is the speed at which we read actually important to our choice of format? Personally, when I’m reading for relaxation, I don’t care how quickly or slowly I get through a book. But reading is kind of like chocolate cake. It’s excellent when you get to decide how much you eat, even if you sometimes overindulge and give yourself a stomach ache. However, if you were forced to eat six chocolate cakes in a row the experience is not as much of a treat. When I read for work I sometimes need to get through books as fast as humanly possible – without sacrificing my ability to understand what’s happening or work out whether what I’m reading is any good.

It’s a difficult balance to strike. I’m naturally a very slow reader, and tend to slow down the more absorbed I am. To get through something quickly, I need to constantly tell myself to move faster. It’s not a very pleasant experience. Nonetheless, it’s an experience that many people are looking for – sometimes we just need to absorb information as quickly as possible. As a format agnostic, I’ve looked at many ways to speed up my reading. The fastest I’ve found is to use a speed reading program. There are a number of paid software packages, but I prefer the web-based solutions, as you can get to them anywhere, and add any text you like by just copying and pasting in a web browser. Two good examples of this kind of thing are Zap Reader and Spreeder. Using these sites, I’ve sometimes reached speeds of around 700-800 words per minute reading, which is almost triple the average reading speed (most people read around 250-300 wpm). I can get through an average length book in an afternoon. However, there is a terrifying, brain-bending element to reading in this fashion. It feels a bit like downloading a new skill in The Matrix, and tends to give me a massive headache.

I know kung fu.

So, in the hunt for the fastest reading experience, in my next post I’ll be road testing a number of reading technologies  to see if I can balance speed with enjoyment. In the meantime, sound off in the comments and let me know whether you think speed is a plus or minus for you when it comes to reading a book.

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Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.