Ebook Readership Increases, Still Only 21%

Before you get too excited about the 21% who have read an ebook in the last year compared it with the 22% who reported not reading a book at all.

That compares with 22% who told us they had not read a book in the previous 12 months or didn’t answer a book-reading question in December 2011.

That number, the number of people NOT reading books at all in any format, it’s going up too.

Where did I get this fun and exciting data? Yesterday Pew released it’s report on The Rise of e-Reading. The report is full of data related to ereaders, ebooks, and the general reading and book borrowing habits of Americans.  the whole thing deserves reading. (Full disclaimer – I serve on the Library Advisory Board for this research)

Specifically related to libraries (emphasis added by me):

When readers were asked about the most recent book they read in any format, print, audio, or e-book: How had they gotten it? Almost half (48%) of readers age 16 and older said they had purchased it. About a quarter (24%) said they had borrowed it from a friend or family member, and 14% said they borrowed it from a library.

One area this report does not address is why? Why did only 14% borrow from the library? Because the waiting list was too long, the title wasn’t available, or the process was too complicated or some other reason?

In a December 2011 survey, we found that a majority of print readers (54%) and readers of e-books (61%) prefer to purchase their own copies of these books. Meanwhile, most audiobook listeners prefer to borrow their audiobooks; just one in three audiobook listeners (32%) prefer to purchase audiobooks….

Again we don’t know the answer to why for this data. Is it because the check out time is too short, the library doesn’t have the book, the process was too complicated, the wait was too long or some other reason?

Some noteworthy general facts (emphasis added by me):

(21%) report that they have read an e-book in the past year

Personally I was happy to see this number as I was taken to task repeatedly for my estimate of 29% (most felt it was far too low)

Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers.

  • Foremost, they are relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books.
  • Compared with other book readers, they read more books.
  • They read more frequently for a host of reasons: for pleasure, for research, for current events, and for work or school.
  • They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it
  • They are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online.

This is not particularly surprising but it is good to see the data confirm suspicions.

Those who own e-book readers and tablets are avid readers of books in all formats. On any given day, 49% of those who own e-book readers like the original Kindles and Nooks are reading an e-book. And 59% of those e-reader owners said they were reading a printed book. On any given day, 39% of tablet owners are reading an e-book and 64% were reading a printed book.

Looks like print isn’t dead after all 😉

The availability of e-content is an issue to some. Of the 43% of Americans who consumed e-books in the last year or have read other long-form content on digital devices, a majority say they find the e-content is available in the format they want.

So 57% are having difficulties finding content in the format they want.

It is also worth noting the social, economic and racial lines of e-reader and tablet ownership

This report is part of the larger Pew Internet and American Life Research funded by the Gates Foundation on Libraries in the Digital Age. As a librarian and a member of the Library Advisory Group for this research I was thrilled to see it get its own URL and section on the website at www.libraries.pewinternet.org

You may notice that this website looks and feels a bit different from the home site of pewinternet.org. As part of our multi-year study of the changing role of public libraries in the digital age, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we felt it was important to give this work its own “room,” so to speak. You will still be able to find all of these reports and presentations at our home site, but you’ll also have libraries.pewinternet.org as a one-stop shop for everything that Pew Internet does that relates to libraries. Marry Madden

This report lays some good groundwork for future research and reports. We all know issues surrounding ebooks are taking up a great deal of our time and energy, and now we have good data about who is using ebooks and ereaders.

You can subscribe to the library blog via RSS, or all Pew updates on Twitter or Facebook.

Over the next year, Pew will be sending out surveys to four groups:

  • Library patrons
  • E-reader or tablet users
  • Library e-book borrowers
  • Librarians

If you fall into any of these groups and you are interested in being a part of our research, you can learn more here.

Additional Commentary On The Report:

E-book Consumers Read More Books Says Pew Report

3 thoughts on “Ebook Readership Increases, Still Only 21%

  1. Glad to hear about the library advisory board and intent to involve librarians in the research – my first thought had been, “Uh, are they talking to any librarians about those changing roles?” 🙂


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