With eBooks, Does Page Turning Still Matter?

Wired (“Why Flipping Through Paper-Like Pages Endures in the Digital World”) gives us something to think about: why is there page turning in ebooks? Many of the popular reading apps — iBooks, Instapaper, Flipboard, etc. — have some manner of page turning involved in the reading experience. And in general, we like it.

An ebook is and isn’t like a book. The reading experience follows different mechanics, by the very nature of the technology involved (screen vs. bound pages). So, what function does the page turn have for our ebook reading experience? Is it possibly a merely ornamental feature? (skeuomorphism, anybody?)

Consider this comparison of page-turning vs. scrolling:

“The most ‘authentic’ web-article advancement method, to me, is just scrolling. But I can’t deny that I like pagination better. Scrolling through long articles just feels tedious.”

Sure, scrolling is faster than page turning. Maybe we simply like page turning because of nostalgia (can we feel nostalgia for something that isn’t gone?) of good old-fashioned book reading. But, I don’t know about that. I wonder if scrolling — our experience from reading on the Web — holds a different set of expectations for us than the page by page reading of print and ink books, or magazines. Although, as we turn more and more to reading apps, will people simply forget all about the scrolling vs. page turn question (I doubt it, but still).

Here’s one to file under Things We Wish Apple Already Did. From TUAW: “Students demonstrate innovative iPad book page flip.” What’s great about this? You get more of a sense of visual feedback (how many pages left? how can I quickly flip to the middle?):”page flipping that lets you scan 20 or 30 pages at a time, multiple page flips that are controlled by the speed of your finger swipe, and a way to hold your thumb on one page and flip through the book with your fingers”

Makes sense to me. Check out the video here:


(thanks M. Gage for the article share)


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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