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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    So, there may be a point to e-books...

    In all the years that they have been around, very little research has been done into the use and efficacy of e-books. I find this not a little strange given the amount of titles available, the aggregators which make them available, and the fact that virtually every university library has some e-books available. I suppose that publishers can justify the investment because they have achieved some fairly significant sales, but why exactly are libraries buying e-books? To date, virtually no research has been undertaken to see if e-books are preferred to paper books; whether they are read in the same way; whether they are read at all (as opposed to quick searches for an answer or a quotation); whether readers take away or gain a similar amount of knowledge in a similar amount of time to that spent on the paper-based text; and so on.

    At the German Conference in Leipzig, I happened to mention in passing the lack of serious research, and one of the first questions posed asked why publishers were publishing, and libraries buying, e-books if no one knew whether readers would use them.

    The SuperBook Project at University College London Centre for Publishing is setting out to explore these and other questions through a mixture of Deep Log Analysis and qualitative research, and should report later in 2007. Meanwhile, as both IWR and if:Book report, US research by the Poynter Institute using eye-tracking technology (a method I used with some small success in a psycholinguistics study back in the 1980s) notes that users read and understand more on screen than they do on paper.
    Viewers read an average 77 per cent of each article which they have chosen to read online.

    This figure compared to 62 per cent for broadsheet newspapers and 57 per cent for tabloid newspapers. Two-thirds of online readers actually read the entire web article they had chosen.

    This contradicts conventional wisdom that suggests that users skim-read screen text and need it broken up into short sentences and bullet points if the message is to be assimilated. if:Book rightly points out that newspapers may not be a fair test; indeed, compared to scholarly communication, they may be no test at all - but there is a strong suggestion that on-screen reading can work. An earlier study by Landoni and colleagues (2001) demonstrated that a better [on-screen] reading experience produced improved cognition and comprehension, and another, later study on fiction e-books stated

    “that concentrating on the appearance of text, rather than the technology itself, can lead to better quality publications to rival the print versions” (Malama et al, 2005).
    To date no comparison of cognition between print-on-paper and print-on-screen has been made.

    Landoni, M.; Wilson, R. and Gibb, F. (2001) Looking for guidelines for the production of electronic textbooks. Online Information Review 25 (3): 181-195.

    Malama, Chrysanthi; Landoni, Monica and Wilson, Ruth (2005) What Readers Want: A Study of E-Fiction Usability. D-Lib Magazine 11 (5).

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