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Is eReading on the Rise?


According to the latest report on eReading from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "the increasing availability of e-content is prompting some to read more than in the past and to prefer buying books to borrowing them." Pew describes e-content as eBooks and "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."

This new report summarizes the findings of several studies, including the responses of almost 3,000 participants in the U.S. who were 16 or older to questions about their reading preferences. The finding that 43% of Americans have read e-content at some time during the past year does indicate some changes in reading habits. Highlights from the report include:

  • While readers of only printed books read an average of 15 books in the previous year, the average was 24 books for those who read eBooks.
  • The 2011 holiday season saw an increase in ownership of tablets and eReaders, jumping from 17% of American adults before the holidays to 21% afterward.
  • "Those who read e-books are more likely to be under age 50, have some college education, and live in households earning more than $50,000."
  • The primary reasons for not purchasing tablets or eReaders by those who don't own the devices are: they have no recognized need or desire to own, they find the devices to be cost prohibitive, they already own multiple digital devices, they have a preference for printed books.

Context seems to play a role in how we choose to read. Participants who read both digital and print formats preferred eBooks when they wanted to have quick access (83%), take a book along when traveling (73%), or be able to choose from a large group of titles (53%). Printed books were preferred for reading to children (81%) and sharing books with others (69%). These readers were split when it came to reading in bed, with 43% preferring print and 45% preferring digital.

More Questions and Continued Research

In addition to reviewing the results of the study published last week, I also listened in on a live Twitter chat (#FollowReader) on Friday featuring Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project, taking questions about the study. Rainie introduced the report as the initial work of a three-year project, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, related to libraries and digital content.

In addition to discussing the new report, chat participants proposed several interesting questions that might spur future eReading studies:

  • How many readers purchase both print and digital versions of the same book?
  • Many eBook vendors allow users to download samples of books before purchasing. Is there information about how sample downloads lead to purchases?
  • What is the access to new versions of a purchased eBook? Could those who buy the initial version receive updates at no cost? What about new editions?
  • What information is available about eReading subscriptions for digital format periodicals?
  • Is there a preference for eReading publications of a certain length (e.g., short stories, novels)?
  • Are there differences in adoption rates of illustrated vs. text-only eBooks?

The next report from the Pew project will address libraries' and library patrons' experiences with eBooks and is expected in June. In the meantime you can read more about this research at Pew's Libraries in the Digital Age blog, and at their Libraries at Pew Internet website.

eReading and eLearning

Why do people read? This was one of the questions pursued in the Pew study. Among the many reasons given, over half (56%) of the survey participants reported reading "at least occasionally for work or school." These numbers increased for those who owned an eReader with 71% reading for work or school occasionally and almost half (49%) engaging in work or school reading daily.

Reading is regular requirement of online courses ranging from journal articles and web-based resources to full textbooks offered in electronic formats. New technologies and publishing models allow for printed textbooks to be not only converted to digital formats, but also potentially enhanced with multimedia presentations, social interaction, and integrated services. New options will continue to present both benefits and challenges as students, faculty, administrators, authors, and publishers explore new ways to support learners.

What do you think?

Rainie's "big takeaway is [that] e-reading has arrived in the culture and that a transition is underway in how people think about/use books." It's time for you to weigh in.

  • Have you read an eBook for school purposes?
  • Do you own an eReading device?
  • Do you prefer digital or printed textbooks?

Submit your feedback to these three questions through our brief Inside Online Learning eReading survey. Watch for an update with the results!

Image credit: teclasorg, Flickr, CC-BY

April 9th, 2012 written by (learn more about our authors)

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