21% of Americans have read an e-book. The increasing availability of e-content is prompting some to read more than in the past and to prefer buying books to borrowing them.
Summary of findings
One-fifth of American adults (21%) report that they have read an e-book 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 e-book reading devices such as the original Kindles and Nooks.1 In mid-December 2011, 17% of American adults had reported they read an e-book in the previous year; by February, 2012, the share increased to 21%.
The rise of e-books in American culture is part of a larger story about a shift from printed to digital material. Using a broader definition of e-content in a survey ending in December 2011, some 43% of Americans age 16 and older say they have either read an e-book in the past year or have read other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone.
Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers. Foremost, they are relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88%
of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books.2 Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They 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, often starting their search online.
The growing popularity of e-books and the adoption of specialized e-book reading devices are documented in a series of new nationally representative surveys by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that look at the public’s general reading habits, their consumption of print books, e-books and audiobooks, and their attitudes about the changing ways that books are made available to the public.
Most of the findings in this report come from a survey of 2,986 Americans ages 16 and older, conducted on November 16-December 21, 2011, that extensively focused on the new terrain of e-reading and people’s habits and preferences. Other surveys were conducted between January 5-8 and January 12-15, 2012 to see the extent to which adoption of e-book reading devices (both tablets and e-readers) might have grown during the holiday gift-giving season and those growth figures are reported here. Finally, between January 20-Febuary 19, 2012, we re-asked the questions about the incidence of book reading in the previous 12 months in order to see if there had been changes because the number of device owners had risen so sharply. All data cited in this report are from the November/December survey unless we specifically cite the subsequent surveys. This work was underwritten by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.