January 16, 2014

E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps

A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013

Who’s reading—and how: A demographic portrait

As of January 2014, some 76% of American adults ages 18 and older said that they read at least one book in the past year. Almost seven in ten adults (69%) read a book in print in the past 12 months, while 28% read an e-book, and 14% listened to an audiobook.

Reading snapshot

Women are more likely than men to have read a book in the previous 12 months, and those with higher levels of income and education are more likely to have done so as well. In addition, blacks are more likely to have read a book than Hispanics. There were no significant differences by age group for rates of reading overall.

Almost half of readers under 30 read an e-book in the past yearIn terms of book format, women are more likely than men to have read a print book or an e-book, as are whites and blacks compared with Hispanics and those with higher education and incomes compared with others. Younger adults are also more likely than those ages 65 and older to have read e-books, as are those who live in urban and suburban areas compared with rural residents. Finally, adults with higher levels of education are more likely to have read audiobooks than those who did not attend college.

Some of these differences are even more pronounced if we narrow the focus to look only at those who read a book in the past year. Among these recent readers, young adults caught up to those in their thirties and forties in terms of overall e-reading: Almost half (47%) of those under 30 read an e-book in 2013, as did 42% of those ages 30-49. E-reading also rose among readers ages 50-64, from 23% in November 2012 to 35% in January 2014. However, the e-reading rate among readers ages 65 and older remains around 17%.

Few readers have abandoned print for e-books

Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits: Among adults who read at least one book in the past year, just 5% said they read an e-book in the last year without also reading a print book.

In general, the vast majority of those who read e-books and audiobooks also read print books. Of the three (overlapping) groups, audiobook listeners have the most diverse reading habits, while relatively fewer print readers consume books in other formats:

  • 87% of e-book readers also read a print book in the past 12 months, and 29% listened to an audiobook.
  • 84% of audiobook listeners also read a print book in the past year, and 56% also read an e-book.
  • A majority of print readers read only in that format, although 35% of print book readers also read an e-book and 17% listened to an audiobook.

Overall, about half (52%) of readers only read a print book, 4% only read an e-book, and just 2% only listened to an audiobook. Nine percent of readers said they read books in all three formats.

How many books Americans read last year

Among all American adults, the average (mean) number of books read or listened to in the past year is 12 and the median (midpoint) number is 5–in other words, half of adults read more than 5 books and half read fewer.3 Neither number is significantly different from previous years.4

The typical American read five books in the last 12 months

E-reading and e-reading devices

In 2011, when fewer adults owned e-readers or tablets, many e-book readers accessed their e-books on the devices they did own: their computers or cell phones. The relative popularity of personal computers compared with newer e-reading devices meant that as many e-book readers did their reading on desktops and laptops as on e-readers like Kindles or Nooks.5

Younger e-book readers were especially likely to access e-books on cell phones or computers, while older adults were more likely to use dedicated e-readers. Only 23% of e-book readers overall read on a tablet.

As tablet ownership grows, more use them for e-booksHowever, as tablet and e-reader ownership levels have risen over the past few years, these devices have become more prominent in the e-reading landscape. A majority of e-book readers say they read e-books on an e-reader or tablet, and fewer do any e-book reading on a desktop or laptop computer. About a third (32%) of e-book readers still say they sometimes read e-books on their cell phone, reflecting both the ubiquity of mobile phones and the convenience of these phones as supplementary reading devices.

Though personal computers and cell phones may be used for a wide array of activities (including but not necessarily e-reading), most people who read e-books and own a tablet or e-reader consume e-books on those devices. E-book readers who own dedicated e-reading devices also tend to read e-books on them more frequently, while computers or cell phones are used less often, if ever.

Tablet computers

As noted earlier, 42% of adults own a tablet. Most e-book readers who own tablets say they read e-books on that device (78%), with 44% saying they do so at least weekly. Male e-book readers who own tablets are more likely than women to read e-books on these devices (88% vs 72%).

E-readers

Among e-book readers, tablets and e-readers are the most popular platforms; fewer now read e-books on their desktops or laptopsSome 32% of adults own an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook. Unsurprisingly, most e-book readers who own dedicated e-reading devices such as Kindles or Nooks say they do read e-books on that device (87% say they do this, and 53% do so at least weekly.) Women are more likely than men to have read a book on their e-readers in the past year: 77% of men in this group read e-books on those devices, compared with 93% of women.

Adults who own e-readers like Kindles or Nooks read e-books more frequently than those who only own other devices (like tablets or cell phones). However, it is difficult to know whether that is because dedicated e-readers encourage more reading or because avid readers are more likely to purchase e-reading devices.

Desktop or laptop computers

Though 75% of adults own a desktop or laptop computer, few use them for e-book reading. Among desktop or laptop owners who read an e-book in the past year, 31% say they read e-books on their computer (down from 45% in 2011); only 9% say they do so at least weekly.

Cell phones

Some 92% of adults own a cell phone, and a majority a smartphone. Though only about a third (32%) of cell phone owners overall use them for e-book reading, the overall proportion of e-book readers who use their cell phones to read those e-books has held fairly steady since 2011. Few do so regularly—just 12% saying use their phone for e-book reading at least weekly.

  1. Though the mean represents the average number of books read, this number can be skewed by a relatively small number of very avid readers; this is why it is so much higher than the median, which shows the midpoint number of books read and therefore is a better measure of what the “typical” American’s reading habits look like.
  2. Among only adults who did read a book in the past year, the mean is 16 books and the median is 7.
  3. http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/04/20/e-books-arent-just-for-e-readers-a-deep-dive-into-the-data/ Note: These figures are based on Americans ages 16 and older,; the data cited in this report includes only American adults ages 18 and older.