Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

eBook pagination: to scroll or not to scroll

Dmitri Fadeyev makes an argument in favor of continuous scrolling in eBooks (as opposed to traditional pagination) in The Return of the Scroll:

The scroll interface suits the variable nature of the digital content that it holds, but more so, it gives the user more fine-grained control over the reading experience. It feels more natural to scroll the page on a tablet because it creates the illusion of the physical medium, of a page sliding under your fingers. A scrolling interface also stops unwanted page turns if you happen to accidentally touch the screen. I’ve been trying out the new iBooks and while I think it’s too early to tell which mode is better, so far I really like it.

Even though his argument is solid, I still prefer the page metaphor when I’m reading an eBook, and I’m trying to figure out why. The closest I can get to a reason is the idea of “edges” that Craig Mod talks about in How magazines will be changed forever:

I miss the edges — physical and psychological. I miss the start of reading a print magazine, but mostly, I miss the finish. I miss the satisfaction of putting the bundle down, knowing I have gotten through it all. Nothing left. On to the next thing.

Scrolling is exhausting — it never ends. There is no sense of accomplishment. I once heard someone refer to infinite scrolling on websites as “a game you can never win.”

In contrast, pages allow us to hang on to some sense of beginning and end. They communicate a solid sense of progress. They serve as signposts to help us figure out where to stop reading until the next time. Where scrolling is an endless blob of text, pagination fits into the idea of memory chunking because it’s a more manageable unit to deal with cognitively.

In short, pagination lets you know that you’re getting somewhere, and not just running on a treadmill. Or maybe I’m just old and need to get with the times…

Update: @jbruwer pointed me to @simuari’s concept of flick scrolling as a possible solution. Video below, but also check out the post for more details.

Update 2: I wrote a quick follow-up to address some feedback on this post.