Book readership is steady, with e-book readership growing

Posted on by Dave Erlandson | 1 Comment »

According to a Pew Research Study , neither the mean nor median number of books read has changed significantly over the past three years. The typical American adult read or listened to 5 books in the past year, and the average for all adults was 12 books. (The median number of books read is 5 and the average (mean)  number is 12, because a small number of avid readers skews the average.)

This figure was surprising to me as adults spend more time on social media and on the internet I expected they would have less time available for reading.  However, Pew reports that the number of American adults who have read a book in the last three years has remained almost constant as well. Although in 1978 Gallup reported that 92% of American adults had read a book.

use of ereaders for books

 

What is changing rapidly is the format in which American adults are reading books. While print still dominates, e-readership is on the upswing. Roughly half of Americans own a tablet or an eReader. The folks who have these devices are using them to read e-books and their numbers are growing.

ereaders and tablets

Book readers

 

The study didn’t report the overall breakdown between books read in print vs. electronic format, but there was some data that provides some boundaries for an estimate.

  • 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.

It turns out that nearly all the folks that have e-readers and tablets still read some books in print, 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.

Our current estimate is that 25% to 30% of books are now read in an e-book format. And the percentage is rising, but much more slowly than in recent years.

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One Response to “Book readership is steady, with e-book readership growing”

Comment from John Conley
Time February 3, 2014 at 7:30 am

There is little doubt that book consumption mix has changed over the past 5 years and the number of e-books sold has reach close to half a billion a year. What is interesting is the dramatic reduction in the growth of e-books and the near stabilization of sales in 2013. It would suggest that the market has reached a saturation point on e-Readers and the number of units consumed by those who have purchased an e-Reader has reached its peak. We do know that most books which go on to e-Readers are Trade Fiction, (Book Stats report 2013), and that Non Fiction is not being impacted. We also know that this change in mix between e-books and print has been very healthy for the Trade Book Publishers as their profits improve on flat volume.
The next area of interest will be Education where e-books have not done well and the major educational publishers are very focused on driving digital alternatives to textbooks along with associated services. This is what we are hearing from companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill. The future of printed text books in K-12 and Higher Education would seem to be very much in flux. At the same time Custom Published Text Books in Higher Education have been rapidly growing and these are digitally printed text books whose availability has been enhanced by the development of Ink Jet Digital Print platforms.
Print is not going to disappear in any of the major segments. The mix and products will change and the future will not look like the past.

John J. Conley
Vice President Publishing
Xerox Corporation

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