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Pew Study Finds Spike in eBook Consumption

April 5, 2012
WASHINGTON, DC—April 5, 2012—One-fifth (21 percent) of American adults report that they have read an eBook in the past year, and this number increased following a gift-giving season that saw a spike in the ownership of both tablet computers and eBook reading devices such as the original Kindles and Nooks. In mid-December 2011, 17 percent of American adults reported they had read an eBook in the previous year; by February, 2012, the share increased to 21 percent.

Looking at e-content consumption more broadly, some 43 percent of Americans age 16 and older read long-form digital texts, such as eBooks and magazines. In addition, those who read eBooks read more books than those who don’t have the devices. The average reader of eBooks says she has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-eBook consumer.

Several nationally-representative surveys by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project show that book reading happens across an array of devices, including smartphones. A December 2011 survey found that as many people had read eBooks on computers as had read them on devices that were specifically designed for reading eBooks. Among those who have read an eBook in the past 12 months:
  • 42 percent said they read their eBooks on a computer
  • 41 percent consumed their eBooks on an eBook reader like original Kindles or Nooks
  • 29 percent read their eBooks on a cell phone
  • 23 percent consumed their eBooks on a tablet computer.

Still, those who read eBooks are not abandoning printed books. Some 88 percent of those who read an eBook in the past year also read a printed book. Overall, in the past year, 72 percent of adults read a print book, compared to the 21 percent who read an eBook, and 11 percent who listened to an audiobook.

Compared with other book readers, those who read eBooks 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 and they often start their search for books online.

“Every institution connected to the creation of knowledge and storytelling is experiencing a revolution in the way information is packaged and disseminated,” noted Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet Project, one of the authors of a new study on the rise of e-reading. “It’s now clear that readers are embracing a new format for books and a significant number are reading more because books can be plucked out of the air.”


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