Who Uses e-Readers? What a Slew of Surveys Tells Us About Digital Reading


As e-reading continues to gain ground and market share, several new studies shed light on the demographics of those who choose digital. The numbers converge and conflict, but a few key takeaways demonstrate how the pack is thinning, and interest is growing:

The iPad Is Tough to Beat

According to a new report by IMS Research, which tracks the e-reader market via "actual shipments on e-book frontplanes, e-book displays, e-book readers, iPads and iPad displays," 3.3 million iPads (AAPL) were shipped during the second quarter of 2010, compared to a grand total of 2.4 million e-readers. That number is for all the non-iPad e-readers currently on the market, including the Kindle (AMZN), the Nook (BKS) and the array of e-readers produced by Sony (SNE).

But the Kindle Is No Slouch

The same report also indicated that e-reader shipments were up 28% from the previous quarter, with Amazon and Barnes & Noble both gaining market share, while Sony, Hanvon and Hanlin lost ground. Last quarter IMS reported that Amazon had a 45% market share of black-and-white e-readers, which suggests the retailer's e-reader sales hovered around or exceeded the 1 million mark in Q2 alone. Naturally, IMS couldn't resist a little projection, forecasting that 15.6 million iPads and 13.1 million e-readers would ship in 2010 (with 46 million iPads and over 20 million e-reading units forecast for next year) .

Digital Readers Read More Books

A poll conducted by Harris Interactive, culled from the responses of 2,775 adults surveyed online between August 9 and 16, indicates that 8% of Americans currently own an e-reader, but another 10% indicate they are likely to buy one in the next six months. Digital reading has caused a shift in book reading and buying habits, too: While two in five Americans (40%) read 11 or more books a year, with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year (19%), 36% of those who own e-readers read 11 to 20 books a year (36%), and 26% read 21 or more books in an average year. Further, while 21% of Americans didn't read a book in the past year, just 8% of e-reader users said the same thing (presumably, that class relies solely on free downloads).

Device Owners Are More Likely to Be Male and Making Serious Money

Nielsen's own inaugural e-reader survey
suggests that iPad owners tend to skew young and male: 65% of the 400 iPad owners polled were male and 63% were under age 35. The gender skew isn't as marked for the Kindle -- 52% who own the device are male, about the same percentage as for the iPhone and the iPod Touch -- but they tend to be a wealthier bunch, as 44% make more than $80,000 a year vs. only 39% of iPad owners and 37% of iPhone owners in that income bracket.

Kids Dig e-Books; Their Parents Are Less Convinced

Book publisher Scholastic (SCHL), in conjunction with the Harrison Group, commissioned the Kids & Family Reading Report, whose results were released Wednesday. They demonstrated that for the 1,045 children surveyed, 62% between the ages of 9 and 17 are interested in reading on a device like the Kindle or the iPad, and another one-third of this age group said they'd read more "for fun" if more books were available on a digital reader. Their parents, however, were more resistant: 6% of the 1,045 parents surveyed said they have an electronic reading device, 16% said they plan to get one in the next year, while 76% aren't planning to buy one.

Many parents expressed concern that time spent with digital devices and the Internet was eroding their children's ability to spend dedicated time with a book.

Devices Tell Only Part of the Digital Reading Story

One of the most important parts of current e-reading trends -- the specific software used to read e-books -- was not addressed in any of these recent surveys. iPads may outpace all e-readers combined, but are its owners using the iBookstore to purchase e-books or an outside platform operated by Amazon or B&N? The answer appears to be obvious, since the Kindle still dominates e-book market share with anywhere from 50% to 80%, and B&N is gaining fast with a self-reported 20% e-book market share, but a targeted survey will help answer this question more definitively.

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Anecdotally, however, Apple's e-book platform appears to have a lot of catching up to do. One author with a strong following in genre circles who sells approximately 12,000 e-books per month said that the iBookstore made up the tiniest of fractions. While this author sold 6,315 e-copies on Amazon in June and 1,827 in July for one of her titles, just 16 and 27 copies, respectively, were sold on the iBookstore during the same time periods.

Piecemeal evidence, however, only goes so far to illustrate the success or failure of different e-book reading platforms and the devices they work best on. With more data, digital readers seasoned and new will be more empowered in their choices -- and perhaps more likely to embrace e-reading.