These days reading is an experience all on its own. From print to ebooks, tablets to ereaders, the number of ways to read your favorite user experience books is no longer limited to slashing a tree.
What’s my relationship with books? Well, I always like to joke about the fact that I have an MBA (FYI… I am self-taught > see my LinkedIN profile); I have a Masters in Buying from Amazon. I love reading books, not only fiction spy novels by Ludlum and Clancy, but also many types of work related and self-development books.
As a quick disclaimer, especially those of you who are used to more in-depth user research articles from me, this article won’t contain any best practices, tips, or tricks. It is just a publication to share with you how I stay up to date on reading User Experience books, and how I find it hard to choose any specific platform as the platform of choice for reading work related books on.
More eBooks, but different platforms
According to a recent blog post by Luke Wroblewski ‘A Shift in E-reading Devices‘:
Though more people are reading e-books each year, the devices they use to consume digital books may be changing. Recent estimates for Amazon’s Kindle line seem to highlight a shift from budget eReaders to higher end tablets.
So what is the fate of eInk? What will the future hold for the various reading platforms on the market. Will device suppliers dictate the ereading landscape or will content be in charge? I tried to ask myself these questions with regards to my own reading behavior. I might have multiple devices to read on, but what makes me want to read a book on my Kindle? Then I ask myself the same question for my iPad, laptop (browser) and even print itself.
Efficient + Easy to Use = Enjoyable… or does it?
I own an iPad and was using the Kindle app on both the iPad and iPhone. At first I found it difficult to adjust myself to reading from a smartphone/tablet. Print was my preferred method of reading, even though this would mean having to wait several weeks for delivery from the US (to the Netherlands) and paying for shipping. Let alone slugging around the extra weight… Nothing, in my opinion, beats print. Reading from a device, well, where is the experience in that?
Sure, I’ll agree to ease of use, or should I say ‘speed-in-use’. You download the app, connect to your Amazon account and (before Apple made them pull the plug on the built-in feature) you simply bought a book from within the app. In less time than it took me to tie my shoelaces, I could buy and start reading any book that I wanted. That was the cherry on the cake as far as I was concerned.
Reading ‘comfortably’, however, was something that I could not agree to. Radiating screens, bad visibility in sunlight, unnatural look, all these things made me doubt the experience I was having as being better to what I was used to, Print.
This reminded me of an equation Stephen P. Anderson noted in his book Seductive Interaction Design (recommended read!). In the book, he quickly reanalyzes the statement if something is Efficient and Easy to Use, it will be Enjoyable. Stephen flips the statement and says that something will be Enjoyable if it is Efficient and Easy to Use. In other words, don’t assume that Enjoyable will be an outcome, make Enjoyable a starting point.
The Kindle app was Efficient, it was definitely Easy to Use, but it did not make my reading experience more Enjoyable.
Enter the eReader
Little over a year ago I purchased my first Amazon Kindle ereader. I started experiencing reading on an ereader. From the start, I had to immediately admit that reading from the Kindle was easier than I had expected, easier than from a tablet. Easier for the eyes at least, because when it came down to reading the more graphically focused books, it became apparent that eInk is very limited in providing the ultimate experience.
“Never judge a book by its cover” they say… well, I am a fan of cover art and those of Rosenfeld Media books really do stand out. Now, comparing the three different versions of the book, it is clear to see the differences. Don’t expect a colorful experience with the Amazon Kindle, and even though the cover looks vibrant on the iPad, the quality of the print is just second to none.
eInk and High Resolution Graphics
Images inside the book are a different story. Depending on the publisher, there are several methods that can be used to display graphic content in the book. Not all publishers do it, but linking the images to high-resolution versions seems to work quite well. Of course, you don’t need this in a print book, but this is where ebooks start to become unique and display their real power.
The guys over at Rosenfeld Media link to high-resolution images in their Flickr accounts so that you can, at any time, get access to them. Great stuff.
And what a difference it is. It is clear, to me at least, that the iPad (in this case an iPad 2) wins, it even beats print. This case only briefly covers images, but in other books, like Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things Designers Need To Know About People, there are examples of links to YouTube videos in the text. The videos are extremely relevant to the content of what you are reading at that moment, so reading it on a platform that allows you direct access to YouTube is the right way to go.
Paying Double… It has to STOP!
On the sideline, a small but definitely not insignificant problem arises in todays marketplace. Buying a print book costs money, and if you want the digital version, you will most likely have to purchase again. Rosenfeld Media and A Book Apart seem to understand this predicament and offer a solution that I wish Amazon would seriously consider adopting. Package the books.
Rosenfeld Media owner Louis Rosenfeld had this to say on the matter:
“We’ve always bundled ebooks with our paperbacks–the cost is so low, and the customer’s delight is instantaneous. Plus it gives them a great reason to purchase from us directly–the bundle’s price is the same as what a paperback alone costs at Amazon.”
Make it possible to buy the print and digital version of a book all at the same time, even if it costs a small premium to do so. Although I am a fan of Amazon, I can admit that they too can fail, and this is an example of how.
Conclusion: No Single Right Platform
Print, tablet, ereader… they all have their pros and their cons. Print is definitely preferred because of the quality and clear presence. Where mobility, ie. traveling to work or going on holiday, or a text-only book (novel) is concerned I can live with carrying all my books in my ereader. For the total media interaction experience, I would have to recommend using a tablet.
I think that the way publishers package and sell books will have a large impact in the overall user experience of reading digital books. For some segments, such as graphic/media heavy books, publishers, like Rosenfeld Media and A Book Apart do, should look more into how their books are read. Text only, text and media, text and interactive media, with the plethora of platforms out to consume this information, how do you go about giving the customer what they really need. There is much to gain in matching user behavior with selling methods.
Tell me how you read your User Experience books
I think this is where I discover why I wrote this article to begin with. I have my methods for reading books. The goal of this article is to basically start a conversation with you, and let you share your reading methods with me. I am just curious.
How do you read your User Experience books? Tablet, Smartphone, eReader, Print, Browser (Amazon’s Cloud Reader) or other apps? Tell me.