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Poll Results: What do we call readers?

I’m finally catching up on work! Here are the result of our fun summer poll on how to differentiate print readers from readers of electronic books for research and survey purposes. What should we call them?

The results were interesting and there is no one clear winner, reflecting perhaps the shifting sands of where e-books and the overall reading ecology is right now.

Here are three different pie charts for the results of 597 respondents:

I would call them (with all ‘other’ responses):

I would call them (without any ‘other’ responses):

I would call them (with the largest ‘other’ write-in simply ‘reader’):

Here is a list of the ‘other’ write-in suggestions:

Reader 157
Screen readers 5
D-Readers 2
E-Book Users 2
Patrons 2
People who read 2
An ER (pronounced ee ar) and all book readers would become BR’s 1
Bob 1
Chartaphobes 1
Connected Readers 1
Digireaders 1
Digital Audience 1
E-Bies 1
E-Customers 1
E-Eaders 1
E-Media Readers 1
E-Riders 1
E-Zy Reader 1
Fred 1
Frugal 1
Human 1
Morons 1
Nookworm 1
People who are keeping up with the times 1
People who read ebooks 1
r(E)aders 1
Rich 1
Screen People 1
Smart 1
Turncoats 1
Virtual reader 1
Virtual readers of e-text literatae 1
Readers of e-books 1

Some people had some fun (and humour) with their suggestions which was great.

I need to acknowledge some personally distressing responses. A small percentage (less than 2%) of respondents were quite adament in additional comments declaring that there is no difference in reading electronically and in print and that it is silly or ridiculous to ask the question. Some samples of these opinions:

“After all we don’t distinguish between book and newspaper readers”
“Doesn’t matter are reading”
“The content is important – not the shell”
“The act’s the same, hard copy or soft copy”…
“Don’t differentiate”
“Why differentiate?”
“Literate people – silly to differentiate”
“Who cares, they are reading!”

Just to respond a little, we do regularly distinguish between kinds of readers. Underlying some retail or consumer browsing systems is an understanding of the markets comprised of romance or mystery readers or children or yound adult readers, etc. It may not be ‘out-there’ obvious but there is a research and data basis for publishers to make reader market-based choices. Indeed the bookstore BISAC codes that some public libraries are experimenting with do this quite well to present a different browsing experience for readers.

Secondly, there is a bunch of research that reading electronically is a different experience than reading in print. I personally believe that it’s unwise to ignore or undervalue that until we understand it better, if ever. Librarians care about reading and readers and when the modality shifts it’s important for us to understand the consequences and environmental factors. For example, some research shows that the human brain doesn’t process the information or experience the same in print versus electronic reading. The amount of light in e-readers changes the brain’s perception (much like the videogame experience can do) and the physical reaction. Research using eye tracking software for print and digital reading also shows that your eyes don’t move the same when reading on screens versus print pages so, potentially layout, access and the reading experience should be studied. These eye tracking studies show differences in varieties of print reading (eg. fiction, textbook, newspaper, magazine, etc.) which has been incorporated in layout standards by publishers. We have also used this research for studying reading, comfort, stress, learning, and user experience for digital products like e-reference, e-books, kiddy-lit, knowledge portals, textbooks, websites, e-learning, etc. Additionally, there are known differences between reading on tablets with plasma/LED light projection and on e-paper (in B&W or colour) where the experience is with reflected light (on of the mains way humans receive our world and projected light hasn’t been around long enough to create human cyborgs! ;-)) There is also research that shows that most people have different comprehension, time spent reading, and fatigue with different formats – especially paper versus e-formats. I’ve pointed to many of these studies on this blog. There’s more but that’s why I was interested in the nomenclature so that I could write more effectively about this stuff.

For the minority of folks who said it was ‘silly’ or ‘useless’ or doesn’t matter’, I respectfully disagree. I am one of those traditionally trained reference librarians where no question is ever stupid and I’d never tell anyone their question wasn’t worth answering, studying or improving. Thats’s just my old-fashioned librarian values. I worry about how we can we discuss these issues as reading and information professionals if we disagree about even making a distinction for research purposes? So I’ll still watch for useful naming differentiators for librarians, teachers, educators, researchers, authors, publishers, vendors and other professionals in the reading ecosystem to discuss and learn about this issue. I still believe that a language to discuss differences in readers based on the format/delivery choices instead of just lumping everyone together as a ‘reader’ would be nice. As things change quickly, all the players in the reading ecosystem have to make better informed choices about product design, delivery and purchase.

By the way, I agree that the collective noun is clearly ‘reader’ – someone who reads or engages in the act of reading. I’m just testing what adjectives might work. And reading is the main event – not format. Format is just a temporary battle in the reading space right now.

Interestingly this poll attracted responses from around the world despite seeking Engish terminology (including – Malta, US, Canada, NZ, Australia, France, China, UK, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Nigeria, India, Ireland, Serbia, Portugal, Oman, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Singapore, Japan, South Africa, Malawi, Denmark, Slovenia, Bulgaria, UAE, etc.).

Thanks for participating. I learned a lot about roughly where things stand today and some of the politics of reading.


Posted on: August 29, 2011, 11:14 am Category: Uncategorized

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