Surprise! Technology Has Made Us More Bookish


Over the past five years, e-reader and tablet sales have increased at record-breaking rates quarter after quarter. Apple (AAPL) sold 11.8 million iPads in its fiscal second quarter alone -- a 151% unit increase from the same quarter last year.

The boom in e-readers and tablets -- such as the iPad, Barnes & Noble's (BKS) Nook, and Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle -- has resulted in Americans starting to read more, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.

According to the study:

  • The average e-book user reads almost 10 more books a year than non-e-book users.

  • 42% of those who read digital content say they now spend more time reading than they did before, whether it's in bed or on the go.

  • Women are reading more than men.

Which Readers Are Destined to Become Classics?

Stories about e-readers and tablets may seem commonplace these days. But consider how much the technology has changed the once-idle world of reading. Convenience and broader distribution are akin to the creation of the printing press and Penguin's pocket-sized paperbacks.

With 29% of Americans currently owning an e-reader or tablet, there is still room for growth, especially with new versions in the queue (like the iPad 3 and Amazon's rumored color e-ink reader) and price points dropping quickly.

Apple got its gadget to the presses early. But the vote is still out on which device bookworms prefer.

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Amazon isn't quite so open with its sales numbers, but according to the Pew study, the Kindle Fire's market share increased from 5% in mid-December to 14% in mid-January. That's a pretty hefty chunk of the market, and it doesn't even take into account Amazon's lower cost e-readers such as the Kindle Touch.

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Nook sales have been rising, too. But unfortunately for Barnes & Noble, waiting until the end of 2009 to release its Nook e-reader -- a full two years after Amazon released the Kindle -- may have been too little too late. The company's profits were already in a steady decline at that point, and introducing a low-profit-margin technology that only mimics that of competitors' hasn't helped.

In fact, while those low margins have been easily absorbed by Apple and Amazon, they are likely what pushed Barnes & Noble into the red over the past few years. And while the company scrambles to decide its fate, Amazon and Apple are chugging along, gaining market share, and just generally dominating the industry, as they are both wont to do.

There are plenty of pages yet to be written about this tale.

Amanda Buchanan is a contributor for The Motley Fool. She owns shares of Apple and The Motley Fool owns shares of and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and, writing puts on Barnes & Noble, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.