Thursday, April 5, 2012

Retweet: thoughts on the Pew e-reading study

Yesterday was a very busy day, so much so that I did not get a chance to read in full the new Pew Internet & American Life Project study on the rise of e-reading. Pew's work, as always, is invaluable and worth reading in full.

Several websites mentioned the study and a few took the time to do a good evaluation. I would like to point out this blog post from Martyn Daniels as particularly well reasoned.

The basic takeaway from the Pew report is that the ownership of e-readers is growing at a dramatic rate – very dramatic rate. The authors of the report, Lee Rainie, Kathryn Zickuhr, Kristen Purcell, Mary Madden and Joanna Brenner, say that 28 percent of adult Americans now say they own an e-reader or tablet. E-reader ownership, such as the Kindle or Nook, grew from 17 percent of Americans to 19 percent just since the holiday season; while tablet ownership, devices like the iPad or Kindle Fire, grew to the same 19 percent level.

(I understand that a two percent increase doesn't seem like much, but the short time frame and the fact that we are talking about the entire adult population means that we are seeing huge adoption rates for e-readers and tablets. By comparison, it took TV a full decade to reach the same kinds of numbers we are seeing with tablets in only a couple of years.)

But most reporters have focused on the fact that 21 percent of adults now say they have read an e-book, and again this number grew dramatically from the pre-holiday time period. Further, those who now own an e-reading device, e-reader or tablet, say they are reading lots of books.

But this shouldn't be a surprise, after all, wouldn't some who buys such a device be, in fact, an avid reader? Of course.

But the Pew report said something I found to be very interesting, and a bit suspect: there was basically no difference in book reading habits between e-reader owners and tablet owners. I think the reason for this may be that many people bought the Kindle Fire as an upgrade to their old Kindle (I know I did this thanks to a trade-in program from It would be logical that these owners treat their new tablet exactly as they did their old Kindle, as primarily an e-reader, considering the other features as a bonus. The only way to confirm this suspicion would be a study designed to differentiate between Kindle Fires and iPads.

Like most publicly released studies, different people will take different things away from the study. For instance, some seem particularly relieved to find that print continues to be the preferred publishing platform for many readers. But again, should this be a surprise?

Similar findings were found when a Zinio sponsored study looked at magazine readership. It should that most people preferred tablets to desktop computers for reading a digital magazine, but print still was the preferred platform overall. Whether this ever changes is debatable, but it certainly could not change dramatically until tablets and e-readers are found in a vast majority of homes. When that happens, and when a vast majority of Americans have read a digital copy of a book, magazine or newspaper, then a study may show far different results.