Released: April 4, 2012

The rise of e-reading

Part 4: The state of e-book reading

By , , , and

Introduction

Altogether, 43% of Americans age 16 and older have read long-form writing in digital format as of December 2011 – either e-books or newspaper or magazine material in digital form. We get that figure by combining those in the December survey who have read e-books with the 31% of those who regularly read news content and have read that content in digital format and the 16% who read magazines and journals and have read that content in digital format.

Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers.  They read more books than other readers. They read more frequently and are more likely than others to read for more purposes. They consume books in all formats, including print and audio: 88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read print books. But 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.

Demographically, as of February 2012, the adults age 18 and older who read e-books are disproportionately likely to be under age 50, with higher levels of education and income.

Portrait of e-book readers

In our December 2011 survey, we found that 45% of book readers age 16 and older said they were reading “yesterday” – the day before we reached them to conduct the survey interview. We say that this represents a portrait of a “typical” or “average” day. A disproportionate number of those who are reading on a typical day are e-book consumers – though they are not all reading in the electronic format. Fully 59% of e-book readers said in our December survey that they were reading a book “yesterday” – the day before they were contacted in our survey, compared with 41% of those who do not read e-books who said they had read a book “yesterday.” Among e-book readers, 50% who read books on a typical day are reading an e-book and 58% are reading a printed book.

One of the major signs about the emergence of e-books is how gadget owners are gravitating to them as a regular source of reading. Among device owners, 49% of those who own e-book readers like traditional Kindles and Nooks who were reading “yesterday” said they were reading an e-book. This is not far from the 59% of them who said they had been reading a printed book. Among tablet owners, the gap between e-books and printed books is larger, but it is still notable how many are connected to e-books on any given day: 39% of the “yesterday” readers who own tablets were reading an e-book and 64% were reading a printed book.

Those who read e-books are also fans of other digital content: 65% read news or newspapers, and 77% of those news consumers have read such content on their e-reader or tablet computer. In addition, 60% of e-book readers read magazines and journals, and 53% of those magazine and journal readers have read such content on an e-reader, tablet, or cell phone.

People read e-books on computers and cell phones, too

E-books are read on an array of digital devices. Somewhat surprisingly, as many people read e-books on their computers as read e-books on devices specifically made for e-book consumption. In our December 2011 survey we found that 42% of e-book readers consume their books on a computer; 41% of e-book readers consume their books on an e-book reader like a traditional Kindle or Nook.

Furthermore, 29% of those who read e-books consume e-books on their cell phones, and 23% of e-book readers consume the books on their tablet computer.  Many respondents said they read e-books on the multiple digital devices they own, so those numbers don’t add up to 100%.

Another way to look at that data is to note that people who specifically own e-reading devices (readers and tablets) are particularly likely to read e-books:  93% of e-reader owners consume e-books on their traditional Kindle or Nook at least occasionally; 81% of tablet owners consume e-books on their tablet; 46% of computer owners consume e-books on their computer; and 29% of cell phone owners read e-books on their phone.

Those who own tablets and e-readers who are over 40 years old are more likely than those under 40 to read daily on their digital devices.

Some 93% of owners of e-book readers like traditional Kindles or Nooks said they had read a book on that device and 81% of tablet owners had read one on that device. Some 22% of cell owners said they had read an e-book on that device.

30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now

In our December survey we asked the 43% of respondents who did long-form reading in digital format whether the availability of digital books, newspapers, magazines, and journals affected the amount of reading they did. Nearly a third (30%) said they were reading more, 7% said they were reading less, and 62% said they were reading the same amount.

The digital content readers who said they were reading more stood out in several respects: 41% of tablet owners and 35% of e-reader owners said they were reading more since the advent of e-content. Fully 42% of readers of e-books said they were reading more now that long-form reading material was available in digital format. The longer people had owned an e-book reader or tablet, the more likely they were to say they were reading more: 45% of those who had owned an e-reader for more than a year said they were reading more, vs. 30% of those who had owned an e-reader for less than six months.

In addition, those who said they were reading more in the era of e-content were more likely to be male than female: 33% of the male e-content readers said they were reading more, compared with 27% of the female e-content readers. The reading-more group was also more likely to be between the ages of 16 and 49, compared with those who are older. They are more likely to have at least some college experience and live in households earning more than $75,000.

Those reading more now were more likely to say they read monthly for work or school or for personal research purposes.

Those who read e-books read more books of all kinds, and read more frequently for every purpose

The average reader of e-books has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer. The median figures (midpoint people in the sample) are 13 books for e-book readers and six for people who do not read in the e-book format.

Those who read e-books are more likely than other people to say they read for every purpose and to do so frequently – that includes those who read for pleasure (92% of e-book readers do that); to keep up with current events (87% of e-book readers do that), to research specific topics that interest them (92% of e-book readers do that) and for work or school (78% of e-book readers do that). The chart below shows that e-book readers are more likely than others to say they read nearly every day for each of the purposes for reading that we explored.

Readers of e-books read more frequently

Among those who own tablet computers and e-book readers, women read more books than men (23 books on average in the past year vs. 19); whites read more books than minorities (23 books on average in the past year vs. 16); those who have owned the device more than a year read more books than newer purchasers (24 books on average in the past year vs. 20); and those over age 40 have read more books than those under 40 (22 books on average in the past year vs. 19).

Compared with others, e-book readers are more likely to say that their greatest pleasure in reading is for the escape and imaginative experience.

E-content is relatively easy to find in that format. Still, 23% of those who consume it do not always find it is available

Of the 43% of Americans who consume e-books, digital newspapers, or magazines, a sizable majority say they find it is available in the format they want. Yet 23% say they find the material they are seeking “only sometimes,” “hardly ever” or never available in the format they want: