The Kindle is doomed

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There is a story doing the round the internet at the moment. Apparently, the latest research shows that Kindles and other e-readers are not as “good” as books.

Read all about it …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/19/readers-absorb-less-kindles-paper-study-plot-ereader-digitisation

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/kindle-ereaders-make-it-significantly-harder-to-absorb-the-plot-of-a-book-scientists-claim-9679643.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2730460/Reading-Kindle-cause-lose-plot-Researchers-electronic-books-make-significantly-harder-readers-absorb-details.html

The interesting thing has been how different people have reacted to this story.

Some have flatly disputed it. The research must be wrong, they say. It was only a small sample size. It’s only one study. I need to see more evidence. And, anyway, I like my Kindle, Kobo, Nook. It has all these wonderful advantages. I don’t care for your study.

It’s the internet version of sticking your fingers in your ear and chanting “Whatever. Na, na, na – I can’t hear you.”

Others have welcomed the study and wheeled out all their old “anti-Kindle” stories. I prefer holding a book. You wouldn’t read a kindle in the bath. Paper smells nicer. I like the smell of parchment.

In other words, they responded to “whatever” with “I told you so”.

Initially, I was a whateverer. As an e-reader addict, the headline annoyed me. It got under my skin. It felt as if a critic was needling me, trying to make a point. So I read the article looking for ways to debunk it.

First I noticed that the sample size was very small – just 50 people  in total, with 25 reading a story on kindle and 25 reading the same story on paper. That’s much too small to be statistically significant. It has about as much validity as a manufacturer claiming that 64 out of 81 people preferred their version of cat food to other leading brands of anti-dandruff shampoo.

Only 2 out of the 50 had used kindles before. Tut! That’s typical. I was well into my rant by this point.

It’s only based on one short story – so we don’t know if it would be the same with other kinds of reading.  My rant was reaching fever pitch by now.

Whoah. This is the point when we need to call a time-out and try to work out what is happening here.

First, the research isn’t quite as clear cut as the headlines make it sound. The study found that Kindles and books performed about the same as each other in all measures except one. The scientists had expected the Kindle users to feel less emotionally engaged with the story and characters, but this didn’t happen.

Instead, the only difference was that the people who read on Kindle were not as good at remembering the order in which events happened in the book. The theory was that it’s easier to appreciate where you are in a story’s timeline when you can feel and see where you are in the book. When the number of pages under your left hand is greater than the number under your right, you know you are more than halfway through.

Which seems fair enough. I can appreciate that.

But that doesn’t seem to justify the scare-mongering headlines, either in the newspapers or on the internet. It’s not the death of the e-reader. It doesn’t make you lose the plot.

Books are better than Kindles at some things. Yippee doo. You could also argue that Kindles are better than books at some other things, like being able to adjust the size of the writing, taking multiple books on holiday or being able to read mummy porn on the train without anyone noticing.

What really seems to be happening is this …

Newspapers and magazines need to attract readers. This means that they need attention-grabbing headlines. And/or a picture of a semi naked woman or man on the front cover, but we will park that one for now.

So far so obvious. But what seems less obvious is that the newspapers need to pander to things that we already believe in. They are not merely giving us “news” – new pieces of information that we don’t know yet. They are giving us more evidence for something that we already believed in. It is self-affirmation – no more, no less.

As a little experiment, I looked at the main headlines for three British newspapers today Tuesday 26 August 2014.

The Daily Mail is leading with stories about the nasty taxman, changes to car tax, supermarket hygiene, immigration and a human interest story about the death of Sir Richard Attenborough.  In other words , affirming their usual messages that the state is corrupt, big business is bad, immigration is very bad, look after your health and good people are nice.

Unusually today, the Daily Express isn’t running a story about the weather. After Scottish independence and house prices we get into a bundle of stories about celebrities.  Their usual messages (if they are not telling us that nasty weather is on the way) is that celebrities are either saints or sinners.

The Daily Mirror has almost nothing except human interest stories. People being brave, being naughty, ordinary people being people, celebrities being people.

It is the same every day, and it brings us right back to the “Kindle is doomed” story. Even-handed headlines don’t sell newspapers. We want affirmation that what we already believe is correct.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer the ultimate newspaper article:

YOU ARE RIGHT

Scientists today proved conclusively that people are right far more often than they are wrong.

Will Once – O levels in physics (B) and chemistry (A!!) –  said: “The vast majority of things that people believe in are demonstrably true. One plus one does equal two. The Earth is round. Nearly any computer fault can be solved by switching it off and back on again. Eating too much food makes you fat.”

 The study found that the beliefs that people could not agree on, such as the existence of God, a cure for cancer and the meaning of life, were such a small proportion of life’s questions that they were statistically insignificant.

Once, the holder of an A grade in chemistry O level said: “This means that people can save a small fortune. Print out a poster saying “You are right” and stick it on the wall – it will do exactly the same job as a newspaper.”

And don’t worry about the studies which appear to say that Kindles are doomed, but which actually say nothing of the sort. It’s a case of pros and cons, a bit of this and a bit of that. A shade of grey before the phrase was hijacked and tied up.

Of course, there will be some who will say that this blog is just as guilty for running a headline “The Kindle is doomed”.

To which I say … um … ah …

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4 thoughts on “The Kindle is doomed

    • Rebecca Douglass

      And for the record, I like books. Paper, Kindle, Nook–I have ’em all and read ’em all. Though Kindles’s %read annoys me and I do prefer the page numbers–however spurious–on my Nook.

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  1. Tidlidim

    Totally agree with you, Will ! The kindle is not doomed, and if we don’t remember what we’ve read or can’t feel how far we’ve gone in the pages, who cares! Besides, if the guy had done his research right, he’d have noticed that once on the page, if you click on MENU on the Kindle 3 keyboard, at the bottom of the screen you get “Page X out of Z” – you just need to do a millisecond-long calculation in your head and *tidlidim* you know how far you’ve gone in the book. Or you get the percentage. Again, it’s easy to work out! Just shows what a low opinion they have of us people 😦

    I’m afraid journalism has turned to mainly gossip. It’s the same in France and in Italy from what I can see. Journalists don’t do their jobs anymore. Or maybe it’s just that newspapers and “news” websites rely on common people sending them content typed from behind their computer instead of sending journalists away to report on events worth reporting about because it’s cheaper. It’s all speculation, attention-grabbing, inaccurate titles and word manipulation in order to get sales. And – and I’ll speak for the two French newspapers I follow – typos! . I hate that let’s-spread-some-poo attitude they have when they don’t know what to talk about! But then it’s not like there’s nothing to talk about, really. They just don’t want to look!

    So yeah, more drivel coming our way. But then, maybe it’s our fault. Because we give in to their strategies. Flocks of people go on Yahoo News (OK – I know it’s not a reference but it’s like that in most places called something-news) and click on the “This celebrity was walking on the street… and this happened next” kind of “news”… and even though you find out that the oh-so-worth-reporting event was just some Big Brother has-been who has broken a nail, people continue clicking and commenting (even if most of it is illegible trash). And we get to the egg and chicken puzzle… did we become like this and they go with the flow, or did they make us like this?

    I’m not against studies. But they need to be done properly, and be representative, there are regulatory bodies out there, that’s for a reason. And still, they don’t take into account external things that may affect the results. Because we’re all different. Whether I read a dead-tree book or an e-book, chances are within a few weeks I won’t remember many details other than the overall plot. Getting people to try both and sharing their experience would probably be more objective already. And one has to bear in mind that statistics can always be twisted to suit a specific purpose.

    So. my conclusion. I’m much safer with the kindle, and thanks to that, it’s not doomed, that’s for sure.

    Like

    • Well said. I think this is a case of a researcher trying to make a name and a career for themselves and a journalist trying to sell newspapers. And to do both of those they have to jazz up the findings of the study. They are not exactly lying, but they are certainly telling selective truths!

      Liked by 1 person

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