What our e-reading habits look like today (Pew Research)

This is quite simply some of the best ebooks research I’ve seen thus far.

From Pew: The rise of e-reading. The survey was based on about 3000 people, from late 2011/early 2012, and provides some rather interesting data on our e-reading habits.

Now, there is a lot of information to take in here (Here’s a link to the full, 68-page report). But for ease of use, here are some of the key findings —

  • Over one-fifth (21%) of American adults had read an ebook in the past year.
  • Readers of ebooks read more books in general (24 for readers of ebooks, 15 for readers of non-ebooks)
  • Readers of ebooks were more likely to buy than borrow books.

As the study notes, Christmas was unsurprisingly a boon to the tablet market (see: iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire). What relation was there between tablet ownership and book reading?

“Interestingly, there were not major differences between tablet owners and non-owners when it came to the volume of books they say they had read in the previous 12 months.”

Who are the book readers?

“Overall, those who reported reading the most books in the past year include: women compared with men; whites compared with minorities; well-educated Americans compared with less-educated Americans; and those age 65 and older compared with younger age groups.”

And how are those book readers reading? This was interesting to me — more are reading on a computer and less on a tablet than I might have guessed —

  • 42% of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer
  • 41% of readers of e-books consume their books on an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks
  • 29% of readers of e-books consume their books on their cell phones
  • 23% of readers of e-books consume their books on a tablet computer.

Book vs. ebook preference was also quite interesting. Ebooks win in terms of portability and convenience, but non-ebooks still win out in the more social person-to-person kinds of book reading. Clearly, ebook sharing has some ways to go still.

“In a head-to-head competition, people prefer e-books to printed books when they want speedy access and portability, but print wins out when people are reading to children and sharing books with others. We asked a series of questions about format preferences among the 14% of Americans age 16 and up who in the past 12 months have read both printed books and e-books.

As a rule, dual-platform readers preferred e-books when they wanted to get a book quickly, when they were traveling or commuting, and when they were looking for a wide selection …When asked about reading books in bed, the verdict was split: 45% prefer reading e-books in bed, while 43% prefer print.”

The study has some fairly nuanced insights on why people read what they read.

  • 26% of those who had read a book in the past 12 months said that what they enjoyed most was learning, gaining knowledge, and discovering information.
  • 15% cited the pleasures of escaping reality, becoming immersed in another world, and the enjoyment they got from using their imaginations.
  • 12% said they liked the entertainment value of reading, the drama of good stories, the suspense of watching a good plot unfold.
  • 12% said they enjoyed relaxing while reading and having quiet time.
  • 6% liked the variety of topics they could access via reading and how they could find books that particularly interested them.
  • 4% said they enjoy finding spiritual enrichment through reading and expanding their worldview.
  • 3% said they like being mentally challenged by books.
  • 2% cited the physical properties of books — their feel and smell — as a primary pleasure.

And lastly, we do seem to get a lot of our book recommendations from people we know. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of that 81% comes from social networks (Facebook, GoodReads, etc.)?


Surprise me


I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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