A new study suggests that people who use e-readers are worse at remembering the plots to books than people who read physical books.
As The Guardian reported on Tuesday, the study involved giving 50 readers the same 28-page short story to read, split evenly between a Kindle and a paperback. Norway's Anne Mangen, who led the research, expected that the results would reflect a similar study in which some readers were given a story on an iPad and others on paper. In that study, readers who absorbed the material on paper scored better on metrics involving "empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence."
But instead, the performance was largely similar, except when it came to the timing of events in the story. "The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order."
Now before Luddites and paper book purists alike turn their dog ears up in vindication, the news hasn't been universally good for the old school readers. Earlier this year, a survey reported by Wired concluded that users of e-readers made it deeper into books without giving up. It allowed more engagement too:
According to the survey, 48 percent of UK adults who use e-readers say the technology gets them to read more. In addition to that, 41 percent of respondents reported that being able to look up words they don’t know makes reading easier, and over half say that being able to change the size and appearance of text helps as well.
The collective understanding of our reading habits is something that's going through an evolution and one that may be prompted more by the e-readers going forward. Back in 2012, we started to learn about how e-publishers were gleaning information about readers from their devices, noting when they quit reading, what passages they underlined, and what book they downloaded next.
Privacy hounds howled, but as Jim Hilt, the vice president of e-books at Barnes & Noble revealed to The Wall Street Journal, people in the book biz are learning what and how readers like to read, especially as e-books take a bigger slice of the market.
Those insights are already shaping the types of books that Barnes & Noble sells on its Nook. Mr. Hilt says that when the data showed that Nook readers routinely quit long works of nonfiction, the company began looking for ways to engage readers in nonfiction and long-form journalism. They decided to launch "Nook Snaps," short works on topics ranging from weight loss and religion to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
This most recent study may prove the ultimate point because who really remembers Occupy Wall Street?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.