• Matthew Kaufman

The Case for Analog: Paperback vs E-Reading

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

Perhaps one of the greatest inventions man has achieved was that of the writing system. It gave people the ability to communicate messages and ideas without having to be there in person. Truly a magnificent invention that revolutionized humanity and is fundamental for all life. But what is the best way to read those messages in today’s modern era?

We live in a current culture dominated by screens, so access to documents has never been easier. News articles, books, even this blog post, I’m sure, are being read on a large overlay of pixels displayed electronically by panel crafted with some form of crystal, plasma, diodes, or the like. But, is this truly the best way to read everything?

There have been many repeatable case studies and experiments evaluating human reading comprehension and retention when reading on a screen vs reading something written on paper and the results have almost always said the same thing.

Humans read better when they are reading on paper versus on a screen. It is also worthwhile that these results are very heavily rooted in psychological matters. This end of things I will not be delving into, I’ll leave those kinds of discussion for Mr. Emerson. However, I would like to point out the technological differences and impacts this all means.

So first off, I should disclose that I have worked for a company that published books in a past life. I can first hand account for some of the reasons why publishers go for a digital first mentality.

Books published online are almost never final. Many e-book retailers such as Amazon make it very easy for publishers to change the text they’ve uploaded. This can be very useful for fixing grammar, spelling, typography, and other issues after the book has been “released”. But what does this say about the medium? I’ve seen and interacted with a lot of publishers who would wait and release a physical edition after a digital edition, as they’re more costly to make and send out. However, those physical editions also garner more profits if people are willing to buy them. So publishers release the digital first so they can find all the typos, get a feel for how they will be received, and to keep their costs low in the meantime. Not to mention that while reading comprehension is better on print mediums versus digital mediums, this only holds true so long as the subject does not wish to be reading it on digital instead.

So where does this leave books and articles? Perhaps some of the most valuable editions of books out are those that are misprints, contain errors, etc. Not to mention autographed copies which simply cannot be done on a digital medium. That is, unless, you plan to have Stephen King write all across the screen of your kindle that is.

Why does any of this matter though? Why am I banging on about needing to own everything in paperback still? Because, there is a big fundamental thing that underscores why people read better on paper.

As I talked previously regarding vinyl versus CD for audio, details are very important. But think about when you’re reading a book versus reading a screen. You naturally

pace yourself differently. This can be both good and bad. When reading a book in paperback form, there is no hiding when you’re nearing the end of the book. It is evident when you’ve only got twenty pages left in the whole book versus another two hundred. But on an e-reader, there is no such indication. There is no weight, no touch, no feeling the difference when you’re close to the end. This can have a huge impact on you read but it’s more than that too.

When you’re working on a mammoth of a task, no matter what it is, it's always much easier when you’re nearing the end of it. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel and you it gives you hope. It makes you want to push through to the end just a little bit faster. If you don’t have that light, you’re just wandering around in the dark and are very liable to become lost, disoriented, and disheartened.

The next time you’re working on anything that seems endless, whether it be a good book on a digital screen, an extended Netflix binge of The Office, being stuck at a bad day of work at your office, or anything else; do your best to remember that all things have endings and to have a greater appreciation of those that let their endings be easily visible to you.

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