Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.


With the release of iBooks 3.0 comes the ability to turn on a scrolling reading experience, rather than the paginated one. This has caused a bit of a disagreement as to which is better. Dmitri Fadeyev and Dr. Drang argue that scrolling is better, respectively:

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.


Paging is clearly an artifact of the technology of paper books, a technology I love deeply, but one that doesn’t make a lot of sense in an ebook reader.

Lukas Mathis has written a decent rebuttal to these points. In some cases, Mathis makes a lot of sense:

If you use iBooks author, you design individual pages that perfectly fit the iPad’s screen. This means that you can ensure that paragraphs that belong together are on the same page. You can make sure that illustrations and pictures are next to the text they belong to.

But others make less sense. This is the closing statement of that same paragraph:

And your users can identify things by their position: “look at the image at the bottom left of page 35!”

This is, again, a relic of the analog page. We now have hyperlinks which allow referential objects to relate to their context in a new and in-line fashion.

In some sense, it’s very similar to the idea of creating inline citations to references, then providing a list either in the footnotes or at the end of the piece with the list of works cited. In the printed medium, citing “(Smith, 328)” makes sense. But in the digital world, merely providing a link — whether it is directly to the work, or to a popover with the citation — makes more sense, and can be read more fluidly.

It obviously isn’t so black-and-white. Mathis makes the smart distinction between automatic pagination and manual pagination, with the latter being a deliberate choice. I agree that, in some cases, pagination is a necessity. But for text-heavy novels, scrolling can be just as effective.