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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nonfiction E-Books Need a Lot of Work

Digital textbooks are way too cumbersome, complain college students, and a consulting firm specializing in the usability of digital media agrees.

Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher with the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), took a look at the electronic versions of various nonfiction books and discovered a lot of things that would drive students crazy. The books in question weren’t specifically written as class textbooks, but they’re the type of nonfiction titles often selected by professors for their courses.

“As any college student will certify, lugging around a backpack full of books is no fun,” Budiu wrote in NNG’s newsletter, Alertbox. “Digital books are light and convenient, yet they still leave much to be desired in terms of usability.”

In some cases, the problems were in the formatting of the e-book, while others stemmed from the e-reading app. Either way, Budiu found that some books offered no means for readers to turn back to previous pages, something students do all the time while studying print books.

Other annoying difficulties included annotations that displayed out of whack with the main content, tables that hadn’t been resized so they broke up across multiple pages, low-resolution illustrations, text that references another portion of the book but provides no direct link there, text that links to a full-size illustration yet the adjacent thumbnail illustration doesn’t, and photo captions that disappear when you zoom in on the image.

Budiu recommended nonfiction publishers pay more attention to navigation in e-books, support more in-text hyperlinking, and improve the quality and detail of illustrations.

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