Are reader-friendly Bibles just marketing hype?

I'd like to highlight a comment from earlier today, because Steve Atherton's experience with the ESV Reader's Bible echoes my own:

"I have had a few days now to read my copy of the ESV Reader’s Bible and it has been an amazing experience. I was hesitant at first since the ESV isn’t my preferred translation but I’ve been surprised how the format somehow lends itself to an appreciation of the translation. Due to the format, I find myself reading longer than my reading plan calls for in a given day. I appreciate the lack of distractions such as verse numbers, references and footnotes. I have the cloth over board edition and it is crafted very well given the price. This edition has given me a new appreciation for hard back Bibles."

Someone on the Bible Design Blog fan page on Facebook suggested a couple of days ago that the idea of a "reader-friendly" Bible is just marketing hype, because he'd never had any difficulty personally reading the traditional reference layouts. Though well intended this view -- which is certainly not unique to one individual -- ignores the fact that, well, readability is a thing. The fact that you can manage just fine doesn't mean the experience is optimal. Reader-friendly design attempts to create an optimal, not passible, reading experience, like the one Steve describes above.

Most of us understand the impact of design choices on readability when it comes to type size. No one would seriously argue that 6-point type is just as easy to read as 12-point type. Personally, I can read 6-point type. That doesn't mean I wouldn't prefer the print to be larger. Unfortunately, until you experience the difference, most of us are unaware of the other ways design influences reading habits. Even those of us who are can be surprised by the difference good design makes.

Take me, for instance. If you'd told me before I left home in early June with only the ESV Reader's Bible (supplemented by the Pocket NT and the Psalms) that I would find myself reading much more, and much longer passages than I had with either my Clarion or my Legacy, I would have been skeptical. In the Legacy's case, the paper is better, the type larger ... the only difference is that the ESV Reader's Bible is smaller in size and doesn't have verse numbers. Yet, like Steve, I've found myself getting sucked into the reader, coming up for air much later than expected. Is that solely the result of design? I don't really know. But the design certainly plays a role.

Think of it this way. If you were the designer and someone gave you the task of formatting the Bible’s text for reading, what intentional choices would you make? Would you end up with something closer to the “traditional formatting,” or would you model your choices on other texts intended for deep reading? The odds are, even if the apparatus doesn’t distract you anymore, if you were starting from scratch with the goal of readability, you’d design something similar to a Reader’s Bible.