April 5, 2012

Pew study finds ebook readers buy more books, but print book reading still “dominates”


The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project has released a lengthy study of changing American reading habits with some surprising findings. The 68-page report, “The Rise of e-Reading,” found that “printed books still dominate the world of book reader,” it also found that “The increasing availability of e-content is prompting some [people] to read more than in the past and to prefer buying books to borrowing them.”

In fact, the survey found that before Christmas, 17% of American adults reported having read an ebook. By February — thanks to holiday gift-giving of ereading devices — that number had risen to 21%, or one-fifth of the adult population. Of course, that number was dwarfed by the number who reported reading a print book — 72%. And 88% of those who read an ebook also read a print book. But the survey’s findings about the characteristics of the ebook reader were remarkable:

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.2 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, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online.

Perhaps equally surprising, the report didn’t necessarily prove the dominance of the Kindle among ebook readers. As Jim Higgins observes in a smart report for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

Don’t assume, though, that all that reading was done on a dedicated ereading device, such as a Kindle or Nook. Of the survey respondents who had read an ebook during the past 12 months, 42% read it on a computer, 41% on an ebook reader like a Kindle or Nook, 29% on a cell phone and 23% on a tablet computer. (These numbers add up to more than 100% because many respondents indicated they read ebooks on more than one device.)

Among the other highlights, according to a Publishers Weekly report by Andrew Albanese:

Overall, said Kathryn Zickuhr, one of the report’s authors, in an MSNBC report, “E-book readers and tablet computers are finding their place in the rhythms of readers’ lives. But printed books still serve as the physical currency when people want to share the stories they love.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.