The Electronic Labyrinth

Readability of Electronic Text

With the advent of notebook computers, electronic text is now readable almost anywhere, on a device the size and weight of a hardcover book. In "Books in a New Light," Joe Matazzoni describes the changes this hardware revolution has made. The Voyager Company realized that electronic books were viable when Apple Computers released their PowerBook. Before that time, they believed that "no one [would] ever voluntarily read on screen without significant incentives" (16). Producer Michael Cohen now says that "[e]ight out of ten people who try it out realize this is a viable alternative to paper" (17).

One difficulty with reading text on screen is the low resolution: 72 dots per inch (dpi) on Apple computers, 96 dpi on IBM-compatibles. This compares poorly with the appearance of common laser printer output (300 dpi) and set type (1400 dpi or more). It is no wonder, then, that studies have traditionally given screens poor ratings for reading speed and accuracy compared with paper. Such experiments were performed using the crude green-on-black teletype screens which (fortunately) are rapidly disappearing from most computer environments. According to Gould et al., reading differences between screen and paper disappear when dark, anti-aliased, proportionally spaced text is presented on a light background at 1000x800 resolution. Future technological developments, such as 300 dpi flat screens, will make electronic books perfectly viable.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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