Thursday, April 5, 2012

Who Reads an American [e]Book?

So, is ebook readership spiking? Are we all on an ebook bender?


The Pew Internet & American Life Project, which I’ve followed avidly, released another study today, this time on ebook usage – and they’re pretty excited. Ebook readership, they say, is on the rise, spiking four percent just over the Christmas holidays as more people got tablets and ebook readers for Christmas.

Anecdotally, I can put myself in that camp. I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and since then my ebook consumption has tripled. Yeah. I read one ebook last year, three so far this year. So I suppose that’s a spike.

Or not really. Pew says the number of people who have read an ebook jumped from 17% before Christmas to 21% after. That’s a good leap, but hardly a spike, as their margin of error on their most recent study is plus or minus two percent.

Pew itself is having trouble reporting this. They say that those who read ebooks claim to have read an average of 24 books in the previous 12 months (with a median of 13 books), while those who did not read ebooks read an average of 15 books, with a median of six. Then they go on, clumsily, to say this:

Interestingly, there were not [sic] major differences between tablet owners and non-owners when it came to the volume of books they say they had read in the previous 12 months.
I find that a little hard to swallow. I’ll hazard a guess to say that most people are guessing at the number of books they read last year, and are certainly guessing when it comes to reporting the number of books they read the year before that. Now me, the anal retentive reader that I am, I can say with certainty that, in 2011, I read 44 books. I counted them all. One ebook among them. This year, not so much, though I am reading more ebooks. So I’m tempted to say that people are guessing that they’re reading more with their ebook readers, but if they actually went to quantifying, I think they’d find that there’s not as much of a difference as they’re telling. Indeed, Pew says in its study that only 30% of those responding said they were reading more because of their ereaders – but that includes all digital content from books to magazines to newspapers. A whopping 62% said their reading level had not increased after they bought an ereader.

While having an ebook reader does make it easier to carry around a lot of books with me, finding the time to read an ebook is just as difficult this year as is finding time to read a regular print book. Ebook readers don’t suddenly add time to my day, is what I’m saying.

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