Info snacking vs. book-reading: Kindle hurting books and other long texts despite Bezos’ original hopes?

image Now that I've had my Kindle for a few months, I recently noticed a pretty dramatic impact on my reading habits.

In my pre-Kindle days I'd spend my reading sessions going through a few magazines as well as a chapter or two of whatever book I happened to be immersed in that week. 

The key point is that the majority of my time was spent reading books.

Book time vs. newspaper time

Nowadays I spend just as much time reading as before, but it's all centered around my New York Times subscription, my Kindlefeeder RSS feeds and either Time magazine or my most recent addition, MIT's Technology Review magazine.

I purchased and started reading three other books on my Kindle, but I haven't touched any of them in at least two weeks.

Information snacking

image So for some strange reason, I'm finding the Kindle experience to be more useful when it's focused on shorter length, more time-sensitive content. Jeff Bezos has spoken before about our current culture's tendency towards "information snacking", or spending more time with shorter-length works. 

Amazon's e-reader is supposed to help us embrace longer works (like books) again, but if my experience is any indication, the Kindle (and its wireless functionality) is turning out to be yet another device that enables even more info snacking.

Moderator: Agree or disagree with Joe? Meanwhile see Springer white paper discussing how people use e-books and related tech—mostly for reference, it turns out, although e-books should gain traction in the future (via PersonaNonData and Peter Brantley’s e-mail list).

Of course, the library-related usage could differ from general usage?

Still, the findings are of interest just the same. Just what could they mean for linear text? Perhaps the book world should spend just a bit less time on nonlinear-text projects and a lot more time figuring out ways to make novels and other long texts more inviting in E. – D.R.

15 Comments on Info snacking vs. book-reading: Kindle hurting books and other long texts despite Bezos’ original hopes?

  1. Here’s my take on this. When I am reading a book I have a very good physical indication of where I am in a book. I know about how many pages it is to the next chapter or next section, and so I know “hey, getting to Chapter 10 is 30 minutes, I can do that.”

    I find it a bit disorienting that with the Kindle (and other e-book readers) getting that sort of feedback is a lot more difficult and does tend to make me read less at a time because it’s harder to gauge just how much progress I’m making or how significant the portion I’m reading is to the book.

  2. Maybe it’s just because I live in an area that gets no wireless service, but I am finding just the opposite. I use my Kindle to read books, especially long, heavy books, or books whose type I don’t like. I download current books of all descriptions, and collected works of people like Mark Twain and Washington Irving, authors I’ve meant to read in more debth but haven’t. Because the delivery system is lightweight, I can carry around what would otherwise be a giant stack. And I can change the font size. As to shorter attention span, I’m finding that magazines are having it — many times I’ll read an article and wish for more detail than I’m getting now. Blogs seem to be affecting print media.

  3. I guess it’s a personal choice. I already had a phone/PDA to do my information “snacking” on while away from home, and my PC is much better for that purpose when I’m not. Having an ebook reader hasn’t changed that. I use the reader exclusively to read books.

  4. This is interesting. I actually found that I read more books and read them faster on the kindle than on paper. It seems to me I am less distracted and the Kindle serves up a bit sized chunk of text at a time. I find it helps me to not re-read portions of text.

  5. I have actually found myself reading more novels than I ever have before. The Kindle is perfect to carry around a ton of “I’ll get to it later” books, that I actually now am getting to. I have two magazine subscriptions, and I will read through them when they come in, then it’s right back to my (ever growing) backlog of full-length books.

    @ Brian Carnell – I actually find myself reading more at a time due to the way the Kindle handles book locations. While I can check and see what “location” the next chapter starts on, and know that each “page” is about 10 “locations” I find myself not really caring whether I get to the end of a section in one sitting. Whenever I have a spare few seconds even, I open the kindle, unlock it, and pick up reading from there. If I have time, I’ll check to see whether I can finish a chapter, but for the most part, I just take reading on the Kindle at an “as time permits” basis, and get a lot more reading done than I ever have before.

  6. On “information snacking:”

    Maybe there’s hope for a short story revival yet!! 😀

  7. “Amazon’s e-reader is supposed to help us embrace longer works…”

    Why would anyone make that supposition?

    I don’t think its supposed to do anything other than to display “stuff”.

    What kind of “stuff” and how long that “stuff” is will likely vary from user to user and moment to moment.

  8. Hmm, I find that the Kindle has zero effect on the types or lengths of works I read but I read a lot more overall because I have the Kindle with me in places where I used to have either nothing or a very limited selection. I also agree with the previous comments that it’s easier to read unwieldy, giant hardbacks on the Kindle than in print. I never finished “Team of Rivals” in print but zipped through it on the Kindle.

  9. Ellen O'Connell // September 26, 2008 at 8:26 am //

    Wikert’s experience is exactly opposite to mine. I subscribed to a newspaper for the trial period, didn’t like news in that format and by the end of the trial period wasn’t even opening the newspaper. So I canceled. On the other hand, I’m reading as many books on Kindle as I can afford. (Have had to establish a monthly Kindle book budget.)

  10. I find that it’s quite the opposite with me. Eink technology allows me to comfortably read longer digital works like novels. Just a few years ago I was reading ebooks on my laptop. Now it’s much more comfortable to read it on the Kindle vice trying to set it up on some LCD display. If there’s an article I want to read, I’ll put it on my iPod Touch and read it on that. I have no problem reading articles on an LCD. But ebooks require better technology that’s easier on the eyes. Eink is perfect for this.

  11. I’m a newer Kindle owner than the other commenters, but so far my experience is similar to theirs: I didn’t like the newspaper I tried; I’ve kept one magazine, because it’s cheap; I prefer blogs in Google Reader; and I’m getting to classics and long books that have been on my “to read” list for a long time.

  12. “@ Brian Carnell – I actually find myself reading more at a time due to the way the Kindle handles book locations. While I can check and see what “location” the next chapter starts on, and know that each “page” is about 10 “locations” I find myself not really caring whether I get to the end of a section in one sitting. Whenever I have a spare few seconds even, I open the kindle, unlock it, and pick up reading from there. If I have time, I’ll check to see whether I can finish a chapter, but for the most part, I just take reading on the Kindle at an “as time permits” basis, and get a lot more reading done than I ever have before.”

    I assume this is a feature of books bought through Amazon. I’ve never seen a location indicator before on any of my books, but I’m must converting to Mobipocket and then transferring to an SD card.

    Guess I’ll have to check and see if Mobipocket converter can create chapter locations like that easily (i.e. without me having to manually scan and set them).

  13. My habits have changed. Some of you might know me from the early days of ebooks through Forbes. In any case, I had every early ebook device and my father was a primary person in the E-Ink community. I have not read a book in the last two years outside of what I read with my son. To understand this change – my father still goes through 5 books a day (minimum). I used to be listed as one of the top ten speed readers in the world and would be going through a novel or text a day. I have thousands of books in my house and storage. Someday I hope to get to them. Like the thousands of TV shows I have with an I-pod and Myvu glasses. I am currently in an info overload with the internet. At this point a total meltdown of the internet would be the only thing to get me back to reading. Sad thing is – I have 30+ different encyclopedias in my house, and as I used to love opening a volume at random and letting it take me where it would, I have not opened up one in years due to time related with scouts, taking care of my father, doing home work with my kid, etc. The current usage of information is actually doing harm as my post says. Darn – I went to a READING camp in Wisconsin when I was growing up that trained kid to read faster. Many years later as I went up to the same area to camp with my son as scouts, I heard that the owner of the camp I went to killed himself because people would not read anymore.

  14. In the day before 50 cable channel where at least 3 of them is dedicated to documentaries and 3 more to politics, if you did not want to watch dollars or see the newest blockbuster you had to get a book. And before the internet when you got tired of TV books were again the only escape short of going outside.

    It isn’t what the books does it what they don’t do, they simply don’t let you read in a unlinear fashion the way digital products does, or at least the format disencourage it just as much as html encourages it.

    What if the reason the net is changing habbits isn’t that LCD screen causes eye strain but because people really prefer snacking to immersion when it comes to media consumption.

  15. That’s interesting to read, because while I looked at the Kindle, I really love the feel of a new book in my hands. I’m not sure if I’d enjoy that same “sensation” holding a book “player”…I have taken a love to audio books though, and toss them on my MP3 player for the summer.

    I think I’d end up doing a similar thing…small bits of reading at a time, rather than diving into a book and getting lost there. Sometimes it’s the simple things that we miss.

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