Electronic Versus Paper: The Difference in Reading Speed Shown by Readers on Both Platforms

Umar Katende Mukiibi

Salem State University

Author Note

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Sponsored Programs and Research Administration Salem State University
352 Lafayette St, Salem, MA 01970




This study investigated the reading speed exhibited by readers of both traditional print and electronic book formats. Specifically, the study looked at whether people reading from traditional print books tend to read faster than those reading from electronic platforms, as well as the rate of enjoyment depending on which format a reader found most appeling. Research Methods and Statistics class students from Salem State University (N=10) were tasked to read selected pages from both a novel and a textbook. The study found that students read traditional print books faster than electronic books (p= .05). Results also suggested that students found traditional print book stories to be more enjoyable, on a likeability scale of 10.

Keywords:  electronic, traditional print, books

Electronic Versus Paper: The Difference in Reading Speed Shown by Readers on Both Platforms


With the advancement in technology of smart phones, tablets, eReaders, electronic books have turned out to be a popular reading standard and a favorite over the traditional print books. Many factors influence a reader’s choice before buying either formats, such as storage, ease of purchase, portability and price all in favor of the eBook lover. Traditional print book fans always point to tangibility, accomplishment, library and aroma as key considerations. However, what about the often overlooked factor of speed. Can readers’ decisions be influenced by the time it takes them to finish a book?

Several studies have been carried out on the issue of electronic books vs traditional print books over the years and most of them have been laying so much emphasis on portability, storage and ease of purchase. A few of them however have concentrated on the commonly ostracized factors such as eye movement analysis (Zambarbieri & Carniglia 2012). In that study, they compared eye movement during silent reading of electronic and traditional books, and concluded that subject reading behavior was the same regardless of book format. This finding seemed coherent because instruction format is less significant in as afar as improvement information literacy is concerned. Gutiérrez and Wang (2001) before reaching the above conclusion compared the attitude and performance of of two groups of freshman college students assigned print and electronic workbooks respectively, and found that frequency of library usage was the significant factor, rather than the instruction format used.

A great number of book enthusiasts are often torn between eBooks and traditional print, as each appeals to them differently. Ardent fans of traditional print books say that there’s nothing yet that beats the aroma of paper, rustle of pages, intimate rustic experience and the tactile sensation that comes with flipping pages back and fourth. On the opposite end of the spectrum however, eBook readers believe that devices literally take a whole lot of weight off their shoulders in the case of packing for trips and college students bags are a lot lighter in comparison. Such and other many arguments led to various studies on the relationship between the two (Martino and Suely 2015). The study mainly focused on reading habits in relation to traditional print and electronic books. It was structured in two steps; online survey used to trace a general profile of a group of Brazilian readers and a subset of respondents. Results showed a synergy between the two formats. Also, several several factors such as motivation, emotion and online accessibility influenced the type of format one read.

The comparatively scanty research on these two reading formats has left a vacuum for much more needed research. Not to dispel earlier studies on the subject, but most of them have been on sense of accomplishment, tangibility and/or price as major influencers on the format a body picked up or bought. Not much therefore has been said about reading speed as a significant factor. The little research that has been done is either conflicting, inconsistent, not well-designed or the conclusions are not well supported by the data (Nielson, 2010). In his study, he noted that there was no statistical difference between reading on the kindle and iPad. He also observed that data did not reach statistical significance for iPad vs Printed book, but went on to conclude that books are faster than tablets. Another study (Williams et al, 2006) discussed costs, archiving and future concerns faced by University of South Alabama Biomedical Library and discovered that getting electronic journals had become more critical than traditional print only when both were not affordable. Obviously, not only was this journal’s conclusion rash and unseasonable, but also did not take into consideration the time factor.  In a world where time has become one of the most coveted constituents, it serves great purpose to carry out research with that notion in the foreground, since most of the past studies ingenuously excluded it. The current study will therefore help us know how speed might yet be another factor a reader may consider when buying books, both textbook and pleasure reading.  Specifically, people reading from traditional print books tend to read faster than those reading electronic books.




            The study used a 2X2 within-subjects experimental design. The independent variables were the format of book, either electronic or traditional print, with two levels; novel or textbook read by the participants. The dependent variable of the study was the time taken, in seconds to read a page in either formats


Participants included 10 Salem State University undergraduate student volunteers from the Research Methods and Statistics class (8 females and 2 male) who were all rewarded extra credit in the research and statistics class. Participants had a clear vision and sight, save for 3 who wore specs but confirmed that they had no trouble reading all font sizes in both testing formats.


Students were timed using a stop watch of Samsung galaxy smartphone, from the time they began reading each of the 4 different stories. Each reading was timed independently from start to finish, when a reader notified the researcher that they were through. A macbook pro was used, and contained two electronic books; Lifeguard, a fictional novel by James Patterson and Workshop Statistics: Discovery with Data, a statistics textbook by Rossman. Physical traditional print books were also used with similar titles to the electronic versions. Each participant was given a recording sheet to measure on a likeability scale the rate of enjoyment after each reading, with 1 being lowest and 10 highest score. The sheet contained a participant number in order from 1-10. They were asked to answer a few questions on the sheet that sought for age group (18-21, 22-25, 26-29, 30 or older), format of choice for college learning, pleasure reading, and a rough estimate of how many books they read for pleasure each year. The researcher had a similar sheet, but with an additional time section, and recorded the amount of time in seconds it took each participant to complete each reading.


Participants were taken to a special psychology testing room with conducive reading environment, one at a time. Once in the room the participant was debriefed about the whole process and a recording sheet handed to them. The researcher then set his stopwatch timer without drawing suspicion from the participant. Next, the participant was then handed the first reading, from macbook pro, an electronic version of the novel ‘The Lifeguard’ by James Patterson, asked to read an assigned page and after that rate the level of enjoyment on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest). The timer was stopped immediately when the participant was done. After this, the researcher handed the participant a second reading, this time a statistics textbook in traditional print to read an assigned page and rate it as well. A third reading, still from the same statistics text book was thereafter handed to the participant, but this time an electronic version from the macbook pro, and a different page. A 4th and final reading, similar to the first but now in traditional print was handed to the participant shortly after finishing the third. The process was repeated in the same manner for other remaining 9 participants. They were thanked for their cooperation, made aware that results would be shared with the class at a later date dismissed.



A one-way ANOVA was conducted to determine if there was any significant difference between the two formats of books given to the participants. Figure 1 presents a pattern of estimated marginal means between all the 4 levels of books.

There was a significant in the amount of time participants took to finish these formats, F(7) =10.553, p<.05

The average amount of time it took to read each format were as follows; eNovel= 93.100 with a SD of 14.08, pNovel=90 with a SD of 15.35, eTextbook= 57 with a SD of 12.33 and finally pTtextbook= 55 with a SD of 14.057


A table showing Means and Standard Deviations of the different formats
Mean Std. Deviation N
eNovel 93.1000 14.08269 10
pNovel 90.4000 15.35650 10
eTextbook 57.5000 12.33108 10
pTextbook 55.6000 14.05703 10

Table 1

To reassess construct validity, the study involved both a novel, a book which people usually read for pleasure as well as a textbook. A between group design was ran and results showed that there was not a very big difference between the similar formats, that is eNovel and pNovel, F (7) = 2.743 p= .132 


The purpose of this study was to test the reading speeds of electronic books vis-a-vis traditional print. We predicted that people reading from traditional print would tend to read faster than their counterparts reading from electronic format media. And in this study, the results showed that the former group had a slight edge over the latter, but not by a big margin. Also, what was unique about the study was the speed at which readers read textbooks of either format, and this took us by surprise. Readers tended to read a whole lot faster when it came to the textbooks. This, I think can be explained by the fact that the alternative choice, a suspense novel seemed somewhat more interesting and got them reading word by word unlike the textbook which was presumably just schemed through.

Research on reading speeds between the two formats could continue and give us several insights that are lacking in this or any earlier studies. Researchers could involve a wider range of age groups, with perhaps kindergarten, first and second graders, from various parts of the country, as opposed to this one that involved just a research methods class at Salem State University. Secondly, they could also do away with the sharp contrasts, such as a novel versus a textbook, for its highly unlikely that readers will put equal effort in reading the two formats. Third, and perhaps most importantly they could let the participants know beforehand that they are being timed, so as not to be biased against one or particular format, for they are able to read at their own pace and will without being suspicious of what the experiment intends to achieve.

In conclusion therefore, results of this study produced a somewhat interesting phenomenon about the reading habits and speed of readers in various age groups. In line to what we predicted, readers may be able to read from traditional print faster, but that still leans greatly towards the nature and type of reading one does; pleasure versus knowledge/school assignments. Mixed results of this study therefore, suggest that we have much more research to carry out if we’re to tackle the reading speed concisely and thoroughly.


Bunkell, J., & Dyas-Correia, S. (2009). E-Books vs. Print: Which is the Better Value?. Serials Librarian, 56(1-4), 215-219. doi:10.1080/03615260802698283

Gill, K., Mao, A., Powell, A. M., & Sheidow, T. (2013). Digital reader vs print media: the role of digital technology in reading accuracy in age-related macular degeneration. Eye, 27(5), 639-643. doi:10.1038/eye.2013.14

Gutierrez, C., & Wang, J. (2001). A comparison of an electronic vs. print workbook for information literacy instruction. Journal Of Academic Librarianship, 27(3), 208-212.

Nielsen J. iPad and Kindle Reading Speeds. Jacob Nielsen’s Alertbox, 2010. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/ipad-kindle- reading.html.

Sehn, T. M., & Fragoso, S. (2015). The synergy between eBooks and printed books in Brazil. Online Information Review, 39(3), 401-415. doi:10.1108/OIR-01-2015-0006

Williams, T., Lindsay, J., & Burnham, J. (2006). Online vs. print journals: new challenges for academic medical libraries. Journal Of Electronic Resources In Medical Libraries, 3(1), 1-8.

Zambarbieri, D., & Carniglia, E. (2012). Eye movement analysis of reading from computer displays, eReaders and printed books. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics, 32(5), 390-396.



Salem State University

Institutional Review Board (IRB)


Disclosure Statement

My name is Umar Katende Mukiibi. This session is about a research project I am doing for my psychology class. I’m going to ask you to read a series of four short sample from book, from traditional print pages and from the ebook on a macbook.

Read at your own pace, as you normally would. When you are done, please rate how enjoyable each reading is. I will be timing how long it takes you to read and rate each text sample. After I will ask you a few questions about you and your reading habits. You may stop at any time, as this is completely voluntary.

The risk involved is boredom since you will read two pages of similar content. The benefit is that you will may get some extra credit for partaking in this as a part of your 204 research methods and statistics class. You may also find the study results interesting when the report is available. This study will help us better understand the difference between reading from traditional versus e-books.

Understand that your name or identity will not be used in reports or presentations of the findings of this research. Although your participation is not anonymous, I will not record your name in the data files. The information provided to the researchers will be kept confidential with the exception of information which must be reported under Massachusetts and Federal law such as cases of child or elder abuse. The final report will involve group results and not individual findings.
In order to participate in this study, you must be 18 years of age or older.

This research project has been approved by the Institutional Review Board at Salem State University. Thank you for your help.


For questions or concerns about the research, please contact Umar Katende Mukiibi (u_mukiibi@salemstate.edu) or contact Professor Gonsalves by email (jgonsalves@salemstate.edu).

For concerns about your treatment as a research participant, please contact:
Sponsored Programs and Research Administration Salem State University
352 Lafayette Street
Salem, MA 01970
(978) 542-7556 or (978) 542-7177 or irb@salemstate.edu

Institutional Review Board (IRB) This research project has been reviewed by the Institutional Review Board at Salem State University in accordance with US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Human Research Protections 45 CFR part 46 and does not constitute approval by the host institution.


Paper Books Vs e-Books: What you need to know.

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