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Books versus e-readers: Is One Easier On the Eyes?

Posted on September 3rd, 2020
Books versus e-readers: Is One Easier On the Eyes?

When e-books were first introduced in the early 2000s, they represented an exciting new opportunity. With the ability to store entire libraries in a single device, this new innovation captured the attention of the world. 

Some observers suggested the end of the physical book was in sight and that hard copies would give way to this more convenient digital alternative. At the same time, many readers defended traditional books, saying electronics could never replace the feeling of flipping a page or smelling a musty first edition. 

But along with the debate also came caution. Many wondered what kind of impact electronic reading devices would have on one’s eyesight over the long-term. 

A gradual plateau of e-books 

Today, after years of increasing uptake, some studies have noted that the sales of e-readers have started to slump. Between 2007 and 2013, there was massive growth in the industry, but it peaked that year and, across Britain, Canada, and the U.S., has remained much the same since. 

As it stands, about three quarters of Canadian readers continue to purchase physical books, while the remaining quarter prefer to buy electronic titles to read on dedicated e-readers or other digital devices. 

These statistics show that, although e-book sales may have stalled, many still use them. So, the topic of how e-readers stack up against physical books in terms of eyesight health remains relevant. 

What professionals and researchers Say 

Do e-readers cause eye strain? 

The answer to one of the most important questions about e-readers provides a lot of comfort.  Many professionals agree that proximity to a screen isn’t a direct cause of eye strain; rather, it’s basic eye care that matters. In other words, blue light that’s emitted from your handheld device or e-reader can indeed cause discomfort or computer vision syndrome (CVS), but you may also experience strain from reading a paper book, as well. So, no matter how you like to consume your content—on paper or technology—you should always remember to sit in a properly lit area and take breaks every 10 to 20 minutes to rest your eyes. 

Different devices have different impacts 

There are two different styles of e-readers. There are the original “e-ink”, or front lit readers, which require a light to read. The second, newer type, is liquid crystal display (LCD) or backlit screen readers. These can be read in the dark and are much like a tablet or smartphone. 

Which one is easiest on the eyes? 

Paper Digital
Easier for those with good eyesight  Easier for those with poor eyesight 

Doesn’t tire eyes as easily 
Slightly more legible 
Similar reading behaviour with both platforms (speed and eye movement),  Similar reading behaviour with both platforms (speed and eye movement), 

Do e-readers pose a threat to eyesight? 

While backlit devices might contribute to computer vision syndrome, doctors have not found that readers with e-ink technology present any greater risk than their hard-copy counterparts. Depending on the strength of your eyesight, there are slight advantages and drawbacks to each type of platform, but ultimately it comes down to preference. No matter what kind of book you decide to read, don’t forget to take a break every 20 minutes to give your eyes a chance to rest and refocus. 

For more information on screen-related eye strain, visit our blog.