KRYSTINE BATCHOYes, toddlers fare better with paper books, which they can feel. But don’t knock e-books. Skeptics would do well to spend a week on E before giving up on it. Even older people can make the leap. Their brains are still plastic enough to adjust.

That’s the word from Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne college and a contributor to such publications as Psychology Today.

You can hear more from her via Len Edgerly’s must-listen podcast, The Kindle Chronicles. Click here and scroll down to the audio player. The interview begins 17 minutes into the program.

The backwardness of so many academics toward e-books continues to amaze me, so I’m always pleased to find exceptions like Prof. Batcho. To give one example of the horrors, an academic may turn research subjects loose on digital text of a certain font and not let them change it—or line spacing or margins or other variables. Never mind that one of the main glories of e-books is the ability of readers to customize them. Just how meaningfully can academics compare E and P with such 10th-rate research methodology?


  1. Quote: “Never mind that one of the main glories of e-books is the ability of readers to customize them.”

    Glories? No, I disagree. One of the main nuisances of ebooks is that they create situations where no one is customizing a book to make it look attractive. What few abilities they offer to change a book don’t alter that.

    Go back to Gutenberg. Heck, go back to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. You won’t find readers demanding the right to customize their books. They want others more skilled than they to make a book look attractive, so they can enjoy the experience. Nothing has changed simply because ebooks make altering that appearance easier. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done—much less that something should to be glorified.

    Even the one exception, large-type printed books, prove that point. Look at them. They’re almost universally ugly—heavy, oversized and with narrow margins. Readers who buy or check them out put up with that because they have no choice, not because they enjoy that choice.

    No, what we need isn’t ebook readers that give readers more ability to tweak a book’s appearance. Few other than the vision impaired who must are using that feature. What we need is to better empower publishers to control how a ebook looks just as effectively as they now control how a print book looks. Fonts should be in keeping with the overall tone of a book. Humorous books should come with a light, happy font, Gothic novels with something dark, and scifi books perhaps with something thought to be modern.

    In much the same fashion, both those who do layout and ereader apps should be able to ensure that ebooks don’t do ugly things. Poor page breaks, including widows and orphans, look as ugly on an ebook reader screen as they do in print. Bad page breaks for graphics are the same. All that’s changed is that the thinks printers and publishers have book doing for centuries to make books look good can’t be done with ebooks.

    One Kindle book I was reading broke the next-to last page of a chapter to—I kid you not—continue to the next page, which was blank except for the “ly” at the end of the last word. Look through your print library from end to end and you won’t find anything that stupid or that ugly. In a similar fashion, try to find a print book that makes a page break half way because it needs a new page to display to a picture that absolutely cannot wait even a few lines, that must display where it is inserted into the text.

    No, the great crime with digital books is the difficulties today’s distribution systems and ereaders make that put so many barriers in the way of making ebooks look as attractive as their better-done print counterparts. Ebooks are ugly. Even Amazon admitted as much with their latest Kindle app update.


    For a parallel, think of a five-star restaurant. What would you think if one advertised that they’d fired all their chefs and now offered their guests the “glories” of being able to prepared their own meals in the restaurant’s kitchen. Would people want to disturb a meal they’d looked forward to for weeks for the hassles of its kitchen and the uncertain results of their own cooking. Avoiding those hassles and perhaps enjoying a meal cooked by someone who is a far better cook than they is why people eat out.

    Books are no different. The great bulk of readers want someone else to make that book look attractive. They want to enjoy the story not klutz with layout and formatting principles they don’t understand and don’t want to learn.

    Heck, laying out books for publishers is one of my occupations. But that doesn’t mean I want to tweak the layout of the books I buy. Instead, I get ticked off that many are so badly done, due the the limitations I have mentioned. I don’t want to tweak them. I have better things to do with my time. I want the publisher to have done that. And when I see how ugly many ebooks look, I just get angry.

  2. @Michael and @Joan

    Michael: Kindle fonts drive me crazy without the all-boldface option available. I also want to change indentation, paragraph spacing, you name it. Many other people might enjoy these capabilities if they knew they existed. Yes, I want attractive defaults from publishers, but I would like to be able to customize from there or even come up with my own settings from scratch. Short of piracy, shouldn’t I be able to do whatever I want with the books I pay for, whether it’s controlling typography or enjoying text to speech?

    Joan: No ageism here–I myself am in my sixties. E-books can be great for older eyes if the software is right (hint, hint, hint, Amazon, in regard to the all-bold issue), but there are still a number of Luddites among us. I wish it weren’t so. Krystine Batcho offers encouragement for boomers who think they’re too old to adjust. My wife and sister are huge e-book fans. In fact, Carly, my wife, is to the point where she avoids print books because e-books are so much more comfortable for her to read. In the past TeleRead has published posts noting the superiority of e-books over large-print books, which may be too heavy for arthritic hands.

  3. David,

    Thanks for the explanation. I just find it annoying that so many legitimate technology issues are assumed to be age-related.

    Lots of people have visual problems or other disabilities that should be taken into consideration in e-book publishing and web site design, as you state. Years ago, my college roommate had crippling arthritis at age 21. I’m sure she would have appreciated today’s e-books.

    Unfortunately, many people who think they are too old to learn new skills, probably are — but it is a self-inflicted ailment. Sigh….


  4. I’m always interested in this debate because I see the value in both e-books, and the physical books I grew up with. I listened to the podcast and agreed 100% with the professor about the pros and cons of each. I think the literary world is more than big enough for each. I looked up the professor online and found she’s got a wealth of fascinating articles addressing topics like these. Pretty sure not all academics are anti-tech!

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