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Popularity of e-readers declines

30 October 2015

From the Pew Research Center:

From getting news to playing games to reading a book, Americans now have a plethora of devices to choose from in order to meet their technology-based needs. For each type of device, the demographic makeup of owners can vary widely, so this section looks at these differences.

Smartphone ownership continues to grow

The rise of the smartphone has had a major social, political and cultural impact. It has changed the way people reach their friends, obtain data and media, and share their lives. Fully 68% of adults now have a smartphone, nearly double the share that Pew Research Center measured in its first survey on smartphone ownership in mid-2011. At that point, 35% of adults had smartphones.

. . . .

More than half of most demographic groups have a smartphone. Only those ages 65 and older (30% of whom own smartphones) and those who do not have a high school education (41% own smartphones) fall below majority ownership. On the other hand, those ages 18 to 49 and those in higher-income households are coming closer and closer to saturation adoption. There are no differences in smartphone ownership among different racial and ethnic groups.

. . . .

Close to half of all Americans own a tablet

The share of Americans who own a tablet computer has risen tenfold since 2010. Today, 45% of U.S. adults own a tablet – a substantial increase since Pew Research Center began measuring tablet ownership in 2010. Then, only 4% of adults in the U.S. were tablet owners. Ownership, however, is statistically the same as it was in 2014.

Tablet ownership varies across a number of demographic groups. Younger adults and those from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to own the devices, and differences tied to educational attainment are particularly pronounced: 62% of college graduates have a tablet, compared with 35% of those with a high school diploma and 19% who have not completed high school. Additionally, whites are more likely than Hispanics to own a tablet computer, while tablet ownership among blacks is not statistically different from that of whites or Hispanics.

. . . .

Popularity of e-readers declines

Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%). Whites are more likely than blacks and Hispanics to own an e-reading device, while ownership also tends to be higher among those who are more affluent and those with more education.

Link to the rest at Pew Research Center

While PG prefers using an ereader for long-form text, in a world with $50 Fire tablets, ereaders are going to be more and more of a niche product.

However, a decline in ereader sales does not imply a decline in ebook sales. PG thinks the best thing for ebook sales is a device, like a smart phone, that readers always have nearby.

Ebooks, Kindle, Nook

60 Comments to “Popularity of e-readers declines”

  1. Where are they getting these statistics?

    How can people afford ereaders and smart phones when I keep seeing 1 in 4 children are starving/ don’t eat 3 meals a day.

    Who’s lying?
    Or are people buying technology and forgetting to feed their kids?

    I have 3 ereaders, a cheap 7 year old cell and my kids are well fed.

    • Or are people buying technology and forgetting to feed their kids?

      Oh, those people exist 🙁 I hope they’re a small demographic, but I personally two people with an expensive iPhone and the expensive phone plan who could afford those because they used food stamps and whatnot. Sometimes they ran out of baby food and I’d spend the 30 cents (!) for a jar for the baby’s sake.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean that the stats can’t be screwed up, only that I can’t reflexively dismiss them.

    • Well sadly some parents that prefer to spend on technology and not decent food for their kids do exist but their not the norm.

      Poor families tend to pass down toys and electronics and hold onto them longer than those who can afford to upgrade every two years or so.

      But now even those who are “well off” are holding onto their goods for longer too. For example, I got the Kindle Voyage a few months ago. I don’t think I’ll be buying a new kindle for years, unless I somehow destroy the one I have. Plus, I have a two year old phone (though it’s giving me s*** and I do need a new one) I’m hoping my new one will last three years; I’ll be reading on it too.

      • Yes. I bought a new iPad for my girlfriend’s birthday, but that was solely because her old one had 16GB of storage and she kept filling it up. Otherwise, it was still working fine, if a little slow, despite being three generations old.

  2. “From the Pew Research Center:”

    Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew Pew …. 😛


    “Popularity of e-readers declines”

    No, most everyone has one and they last a long time so only the latecomers are buying them …

  3. I got my Firstgen Nook with part of a lump sum I got from Social Security when I first got Disability for my bipolar disorder years ago. I purchased the newer one I now have last year with two or three B&N gift cards I’d gotten for my birthday/Christmas from family members. I bought the cheapest Nook (just an ereader) the second time around, even though I had the extra money at the time and could have gotten a tablet Nook, because I use a backlit computer screen all bloody day for my writing and like to give my eyes a break from the backlight when I read, and the glare on tablet screens does funky things to my vision, sometimes causing headaches, when I’m reading through the magnifiers of my bifocals (which I must do or I put noseprints on the screen–and finger/nose prints on any screen drive me batty).

    I can’t be the only frequent-reader with these same vision issues and/or financial strictures. I hope for our sakes that e-ink (or similar) ereaders with low/no glare screens can always be found.

  4. Used to see news blurbs of the same premise everyday. Onetime “Must Have” items that are becoming obselete! They all had a common trait…standalone items: GPS, mp3 player, palm pilot, digital camera, voice recorder-for those so inclined, etc.

    Obviously, they’ve all been consolidated into ever improving smartphones. What it DOES NOT allude to is a return to the legacy tech they first replaced.

    However, I have a feeling some in legacy book world will take this report to mean exactly that.

  5. PG thinks the best thing for ebook sales is a device, like a smart phone, that readers always have nearby.

    I completely agree. 😀

    At Casa Ney-Grimm, we have 3 Kindle Touches, 2 Kindle Fires, 2 iPods, 1 Nano, and 1 iPhone. That collection is likely to grow.

    • I completely disagree with him. 🙂 I think there are four things needed for ebook sales, and my order is:

      1. Literacy — we still have woefully poor literacy skills in large pockets of the population…companies want to grow their market by 1 or 2% in the established market while 40% never read anything.

      2. Marketplace — the build it and they will come argument has already been answered by Amazon;

      3. Quality books, reasonably priced — the explosion in prices 15 years ago in paperbacks and the revolving price in ebooks makes some purchase decisions to be actual decisions rather than impulse or nobrainer / obvious value decisions (hence why some people do RETURNS of ebooks when they don’t like it — part principle, partly the original price); and,

      4. Devices to read them on — I think with #2 covered, #3 being market-driven and will eventually shake itself out, #1 is the future of growth while 1,2,3 will drive #4 to include the function wherever possible, rather than separate devices.

      I think we still have those upstream activities to solve before the downstream gets fixed…


      • Your points are good for the larger picture, of course. In the smaller picture, a device (like a smart phone) that is always nearby, and that has your current book on it, seems like it would be picked up and read more often, in odd moments of unexpected waiting, than a device (or a book) left at home.

        • Kindle Paperwhite by the bed and in the bag when I travel, smart phone with Kindle app for all the periods in between. This has led to me reading dozens more books in a year than in print-only world and a multitude more books bought in low cost e-books. Hundreds of which I would have never have even seen let alone enjoy.

          • Fantastic! It sounds like you’ve evolved the perfect system for you. 😀

            • My phone buzzes and beeps too damn much when reading, no matter how many notifications I turn off and I’m not even remotely a heavy app user. I have very few on my phone and only a few games for the kids. Thing is still going off all day.

  6. I find that specialty always beats generality in tech. If good enough is good enough, you’ll go general, but if you want or need an improvement, then you’ll go specialty. Heavy readers will continue preferring specialty products because they really do provide a better reading experience. Digital paper is awesome on the eyes.

    • I seem to be in a minority here, but I despise e-ink readers. The contrast ratio is rubbish – dark grey on medium grey. I can read on a tablet (or my phone) for hours without any trouble or eyestrain, but my Kindle gathers dust.

      • It’s not like that with the Voyage or Paperwhite. It’s black on white.

      • Yep, Tom, you are in the minority. We love you anyway.

        • Economists like to refer to the Big Mac index for international fiancé and I like to refer to the Airport Terminal index for tech adoption. When Kindles and smart phones were relatively new I was the only idiot I saw in an airport still holding a paperback. And probably the only crusty geezer with printed Yahoo map directions for where I was going when I landed too.

          I “late-adopted” the Kindle and then all the sudden I’m the only person with an e-reader, it seems. Everyone else has already moved on to tablets, chrome-books, etc. Saw it on my Navy cruise last year too; the few guys my age had Kindles and big laptops whenever we got to a port and went Wi-Fi hunting while all the young guys just had their phones and tablets.

  7. And the good news is that a lot of people use smart phones and other such devices. As an author it doesn’t impact me if my book is read on a e-Reader, tablet, or smart phone, as long as my book is read. Although smart phones project a status symbol and the ability of young people to stay in touch at all times, a smart phone is a source of information, small and portable. As long as people prefer such source of information, my books are the information readers will read.

  8. “Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device.”

    So did a bunch of adults throw their e-readers away?

  9. I have to say, I’m loving my $50 Kindle. The tech to get our content into people’s hands is getting better and cheaper all the time.

  10. Doesn’t it seem like phones are getting bigger screens now, too? At least, last I checked, many of the screens seemed very large, and that might make reading on them easier…

    It sure would be a shame if folks stopped reading because the screens simply get too small to be comfortable.


    • I was in an AT&T store recently and was surprised by the size of many of the phones that were on display. The salesperson said the large phones are the ones people want. Seems like a bother to cart them around. They’re far from pocket-size (more like tablet size).

      • I’ve heard them referred to as . . . phablets. Do not want. I’ve got an e-reader and a “you will carry this so we can call you” smart phone.

        • Heh, so of course you read on the ‘“you will carry this so we can call you” smart phone’ to kill its battery first, then sit back and properly enjoy your e-reader — knowing you won’t be disturbed … 😉

        • I have a desktop computer, an ereader, and a dumbphone. I want the internet to stay in my office like a good obedient dog, and not follow me around the house and out into the world. It is addictive enough without 24/7 access.

    • Tablet screens are getting smaller and smartphone screens are getting larger. I think either one is great for ereading. I switch between my phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 2) and a small Galaxy tablet. I recently bought a $50 Fire tablet and a Paperwhite. So far, I don’t really see much of a difference between any of them.

      My phone was one of the first very large screens and those people with their itty-bitty iPhones would make fun of it. Now, they have their own large screen smartphone.

      I’ve had my Note 2 for almost three years, and it’s been a great phone, but the Note 5 is starting to look very tantalizing.

    • Heck, there may come a time when we stop calling them “phones.” According to AT&T, I’ve used my phone for about an hour of talk time over the past two months. Mostly I use my iPhone for messaging, pictures, music, navigation, web browsing, and account management, and honestly I think if Apple didn’t call it that, I probably wouldn’t be, either.

      Also interesting: the screens on a lot of the larger phones are almost as large as, if not larger than, e-ink readers, and often they have higher resolution. The new Paperwhite only just surpassed 300dpi, didn’t it? The iPhone 6 has (I think) 326, and it’s one of the lower resolutions out there (which of course bears out that hey, resolution ain’t everything).

  11. The numbers look odd but the fact is a fair amount of ebook readers sold at the peak in late 2011 were xmas gifts that were languishing in drawers by spring 2012.

    Like so many things ebook, making comparisons to 2011-12 will be misleading as to the reality of that specific product line. (For one thing, Nook sold a lot of readers in 2010-2011 and nowhere near that many afterwards. Ditto for Sony and most of the hardware-only vendors hoping for an interoperable epub market to materialize only to see it squashed by the move go walled gardens, most of which just vanished.)

    So the whole “phones and tablets are killing ereaders” is a stretch; the two categories appeal primarily to very different customer bases. Light and casual readers can’t really justify an ereader, especially when tablets are so chesp, but heavy readers can and do justify buying even a premium ereader like the VOYAGE.

    I seriously doubt dedicated reading gadgets will go away any more than cameras and media players have gone away. For serious/heavy users there is no substitute for an optimized device and the ereaders are optimized for extreme battery life, simplicity of use, and minimal eyestrain.

    They’ll endure.

    • I have a Voyage and wish it had “extreme battery life”. Compared to my earlier Kindles, it’s quick-draining.

      • How does it compare to the 8-10 hours of the typical tablet?
        Most ereaders run around 30 hrs…

        • I have never timed it. I just notice that I need to charge it every three or four days and my other Kindles would go for weeks on a charge. My guess is that the brightness setting is what’s doing it.

          • Tablets generally need recharging daily.

            As for the battery use, I understand the biggest drain is WiFi, followed by screen/lighting. On tablets, both are significantly bigger drains than on ereaders. And if the tablet is used for gaming, the GPU uses even more power.

            • Only time I turn on wifi is when I have a new book to download. Otherwise, reading is the only thing I use it for.

  12. I have a Fire but I no longer really use it. I read on my iPad’s Kindle app, and when I’m away from home and desperate, on my iPhone’s tiny screen.

  13. I haven’t used my Kindle in a couple of years, except to check that my books look OK. Tablet screens have reached the point where they’re good enough to read on for significant amounts of time, and they hold a charge long enough that they’re no longer a pain to recharge. Also, the Kindle e-ink interface becomes unbelievably clunky when you have 6,000+ books in your account.

    That said, I read at least as much on my phone as my iPad, as the phone is always there when I’m stuck somewhere with nothing else to do.

  14. > “Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader … a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device.”

    Something fishy here. In one year, a third of adults with an ereader (31 million people) got rid of it? (Lost it, broke it, sold it to a collector of ereaders, or gave it to a child?) More likely: people stopped claiming to have one, people have forgotten they have one, or flaws in the poll.

    • I’m betting it was never 34% since ebook penetration runs 24-30%. And back in the day it was 19-20%.

      Figure the old poll overstated and the current understates and you might find a drop of a few million.

  15. I’m surprised that the price of e-ink screens haven’t dropped more quickly.

    I would have guessed by 2015 Amazon would have been giving fully subsidized devices away.

    Either way, the next generation is reading on their mobile devices. Hopefully it won’t keep them up all night…

  16. I’m a little skeptical of the numbers, but a leveling off is to be expected at some point, especially with the proliferation of cheap tablets, phones and readers. Far and away, I prefer my Paperwhite for reading books. Nothing else comes close. But I’m probably a minority because I know a lot of people who don’t mind reading on a phone or glossy-screened tablet. It also helps that you can get a pretty nice tablet for $100 or less, which serves as a reader, an entertainment (video and music) device, and an internet surfing computer. If it’s a decent one, it will last for years, so no great need to replace or own multiple devices. As PG already said, no real correlation between this and e-books.

  17. Pew’s numbers are the most accurate view we have the ebook market. Their survey methodology is top-notch and they are constantly updating it as the state of the art advances. They discuss their changes and test them publicly.

    Even better they are the only major survey organization that allows you to download the raw data. I have done that for all of their previous ebook surveys and will download this data when they make it available (usually in about six months).

    Before you doubt their numbers on ereader ownership ask yourself the following question: Is there any publicly available data that would tend to confirm or contradict the numbers?

    The obvious answer to that question would be changes in ereaders sales over the last few years. Those numbers are a lot less reliable than high quality survey data, but they also point to sales lower than the expected replacement rate. We have two indicators pointing in the same direction.

    I am inclined to accept this evidence, even though I found it somewhat surprising. You can bet I will be checking their numbers when they make the data available.

    • I don’t have a problem with the 2015 data or the idea that less people are using ereaders. (There’s a bunch of 2010-11 Nooks and Sonys that should have died by now with no clear replacement path, given Nook’s decline.)

      But really?
      32% of adults were *using* ereaders in early 2014?

      I’m wondering if respondents in the old data were conflating ereaders with tablets (like the study that used iPads for sleep studies and then applied the results to eink devices).

      The old numbers are just too high for *usage* given the size of the ebook market in 2013 for me to buy into that 30% drop.

      Not that it matters what people read on.

      • One limit of survey data is how people understand the questions. But if someone owns, say, a Kindle Fire HD, and tells an interviewer that they own an ereader, that likely means that the device IS an ereader for that person. Weird and confusing, but important.

        • I would be one of those. I use my Kindle Fire tablets as ereaders, not all-purpose tablets. I haven’t downloaded any app but FB, which I prefer to use on my chromebook, not my phone or tablet. So, my 4 Kindles Fire are used as ereaders.

      • Okay, I went to see if I was misremembering but, no.
        In early 2014 Pew reported that 28% of people read at least one ebook on ereader *or* tablet.


        No way were 32% of adults using ereaders in 2014.
        Not by their own report.
        Unless… maybe they were using ereaders to prop up furniture?

        As I said, skeptical I am.

    • I think with those smartphones having larger screens and folks getting iPads and similar, I can totally get ereaders losing their appeal to some.

      For folks like me, with vision issues and a thousand ebooks in the cloud (maybe more, I haven’t checked lately), an ereader just is more convenient and useful. And I have six of them, all but one Kindles of various sorts/sizes.

      I don’t see myself not buying ereaders from Amazon as long as they keep making ones that I enjoy.

  18. I’d be interested in the total number of Kindle app downloads. The specific device doesn’t matter.

  19. I find the views for and against what people use or read with as a device somewhat reminiscent of another trend, running ahead of the cells and e-readers –> cameras.

    People said, “oh, people want SLRs, they’ll never go digital, always film.” Then they said, “Nobody who’s a professional would ever use PSR.” They they said, “Nobody can take a good shot with an iPhone.” All laughable, they said. Now there is an underlying message that just about all the professionals agree on — the best camera is the one you have with you.

    I have a laptop that was replaced by a netbook that was replaced by a tablet that was replaced by a smartphone that was replaced by a phablet (phone / tablet). I’ve read books on all of them because that was what I had with me. I have a Kindle, and it is the old non-touch e-ink, not backlit. It’s awesome, but I go six months without using it and then binge for 3 months. But it’s one more thing to carry, and I always have my phone. I don’t carry a small phone as I have no need to — I almost always have a small shoulderbag with me that I can carry phone, wallet, pen, notebook, some meds, and whatever I happen to be working on that day. I find it laughable that people think, “Oh, I’d never use a phone that big.” So, don’t. You buy whatever size you want. We all can. That’s the point. We read on the device we have with us, and for the millions carrying multi-sized phones, the options are almost endless. The only problem is that like using any video element, it sucks the battery on non e-ink devices. But the new displays have eliminated almost all of the glare problems from a few years.

    The best device for building ebook market? The one you have with you.

  20. Al the Great and Powerful

    I am a white college graduate married to another… we have a Kindle ereader, Kindle tablet, Android tablet, Iphone, and Nexus 6 phablet. And 2 pcs and a laptop. We read on all of them. None have been retired (though the Kindle reader does live in the bathroom now). Actually, my Iphone 4 has been retired AS A PHONE, but it still serves as a music player (streams to the car or to my headphones) and backup reader and camera. My wife uses her Iphone 5 as a phone/camera/tiny tablet.

    And my Nexus 6 fits fine in pockets, even shirt pockets. And comfortably in my hand.

  21. Nexus 7. That’s all you need for reading.

    My kindles, kobo readers, even the iPad gather dust until proofread time for my own releases.

  22. I use both my phone and my Kindle Touch to read. I’ve found I enjoy nonfiction on my phone and fiction on my Kindle Touch. Not sure why, but that’s just the way my preferences are at the moment.

  23. I still have the Kindle Touch I bought a few years ago, and a Nook a friend gave us to check my ebooks on.

    Part of the “problem” is that there’s not a good reason for one to buy up. I like using my touch in bed with a booklight, because then I can go to sleep afterwards (it doesn’t act on the eyes like a computer monitor).

  24. Unless the phone or phablet screen size is as large as my Kindle and I can convince myself that the screen isn’t killing my eyes I will give up reading print if I am stuck with that as my only alternative and pretty much feel the same about reading on my tablets. (I never said I’d give up audio) I’m not “upgrading” until forced to or because I become unable to find suitable used sources for the Kindle ereaders I prefer. I’m a fogey – I like my e-ink, my buttons, my keyboard and my text to speech. I had to get a Kindle Keyboard replaced by a Touch because I waited too long to send in one with a shattered screen and they were out of keyboards and I am not ashamed to say I begged for a keyboard. The Touch isn’t awful the on screen keyboard and searching is nicer than I thought it would be and it does still have text to speech which is why I had purchased the second KK in the first place – it had gone out on my first. But I hate touch turning the pages because “previous” never ends up on the previous page for me.

    So much depends on how the the surveys are worded. If the question reads “Have you purchased or plan to purchase a new ereader in the last 12 months” then even though I will be hunting possible replacements constantly I would have to answer no to the question.

  25. Al the Great and Powerful

    I keep looking at the Waterfi waterproof Kindle Paperwhite (good to beyond scuba depths, backlit, the perfect thing for your safety stop reading, or for references while diving). But I’m not diving, so why buy it? I have reading devices out the kazoo already…

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