E-books - the problem is "books" not "e"

Scott Carlson, for The Chronicle of Higher Education, reports on an e-book study at Ball State University. In the end, students with electronic text books did as well as those with printed books, but the complaints from students are most interesting.

Navigating the e-books was said to be tedious, they had difficulty finding specific chapters, and locating specific words. Eyestrain was a problem, prompting some e-book students to switch to printed tomes.

No kidding. The problem with e-books is not the "e", it is the "books". Publishers are taking publications designed for print, slapping them onto a computer, and then expressing surprise when the results suck. The conventions and methodologies used to present the printed word are well understood and work great, provided the output is a printed book. But expecting the conventions to still work when the material is ephemerally painted onto a single pane of glass is just silly. Or lazy. I haven't decided which.

Unfortunately, some of the comments from students could be taken to mean that e-books should be even more "book like" in their implementation. For example, the study found that options like changing font size and contrast weren't particularly helpful. Also, some students wanted the ability highlight important passages. I think both these just point to the underlying design flaw -- what I like to call the Acrobat Factor -- instead of a built-in limitation of onscreen documentation. However, the "easiest" (or again, laziest) solution would be to just mimic the printed world even more, giving the students exactly what they're asking for, but not what they need.

Posted: August 27, 2002 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item