Good-bye books, hello e-books

Good-bye books, hello e-books

Summary: The number of people who are reading printed books is declining. But reading isn’t. According to the Pew Research Center, we're buying Kindles and Nooks and reading more e-books at a rapidly growing rate.

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E-Readers are on their way to catching up, and then surpassing, books.

Readers, it’s time to turn a page. In a December 27, 2012 report entitled, "E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines," the Pew Research Center found that "the number of those who read e-books increased from 16% of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23%.” At the same time, the report says, the number of people who read printed books in the previous 12 months “fell from 72% of the population ages 16 and older to 67%."

It's not a sharp decline. The survey of 2,252 Americans (ages 16 and older), found that 89% of the book readers had read a printed book (or 67% of all those ages 16 and older). At the same time, 30% of the book readers said they had read an e-book, which translates into 23% of all those ages 16 and older. An April Pew research project  showed that "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%."

Who are these readers? In the April 2012 report, Pew researchers stated:

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. 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 people who read e-books are also, to no surprise, all owners of either a tablet computer or e-book reading device. "25% of Americans ages 16 and older own tablet computers such as iPads or Kindle Fires, up from 10% who owned tablets in late 2011" says the report; And in late 2012, "19% of Americans ages 16 and older own e-book reading devices such as Kindles and Nooks, compared with 10% who owned such devices at the same time last year." Put it together, and 33% of adult Americans now own an e-book reader or tablet.

The vast majority of users, whether they use a low-end Kobo Touch eReader or a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, are also Android users. The Apple iPad is the only non-Android based tablet used by many e-book readers. Though, of course, many of these users never give a thought to the operating system that runs their device. As long as they can comfortably read the latest Lois McMaster Bujold novel on it, they don’t care about the ones and zeroes that make their reading  possible.

E-book readers are well educated. Those most likely to read e-books include those with college or graduate degrees, those who live in households earning more than $75,000, and those whose ages fall between 30 and 49, according to the report. In short, financially successful people tend to be readers – and can afford the devices.

Libraries, according to Pew Research, have also picked up on this trend. While relatively few readers use libraries for e-books, only 5%, "There is growing public awareness that the vast majority of public libraries now lend e-books. In the entire population of those ages 16 and older, the number who are aware that libraries offer e-book loans increased from 24% last year to 31% now."

Digging into the hardware of e-book reading, Pew Research found that while more and more people are using both dedicated e-readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, higher-powered Android tablets, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet HD, and Nexus 7 are gaining in popularity over low-end e-readers. In November 2012, tablet users formed 25% of the e-reader population compared to 19% using dedicated e-readers.

Some people, including ZDNet readers, still maintain that dedicated e-reader devices are going to be with us for years to come. Pew's data, and my own experience, lead me to believe that, as prices for low-end tablets continue their steady march downward to the $99 mark, dedicated e-readers will soon disappear from the market.

What won't disappear are e-books and e-book apps. The real question is how long will physical books last as a mass-market item. And that is speaking as someone who loves books, whose idea of “scaling back” on my personal library was to reduce the bookshelves to hold a mere 6,000 books.

Sure, I love books., chances are you love books too. But, I also love newspapers, and that hasn’t kept them from dying off. I also love magazines, but the last print issue of Newsweek, once one of the great newsweeklies, came out this week.

I can read the writing on the wall. The days are numbered for physical mass-market books —even if that number isn’t a small one. Sure, some books, newspapers, and magazines will live on. But, horses lived on after the arrival of the car, too; you just don't see them very often anymore. The same fate awaits physical, paper-based books.

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31 comments
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  • read what?

    I would be far more interested in what they are reading rather than how much; my sense is that there is more frivolous reading than ever; we need not mourn the loss of books, rather we should mourn the loss of quality creations, and not just in writing; in ALL aspects of culture, we are in decline. That should concern us all, not how we read but what we care to read and what is being created for us to read, to view, to experience, enjoy and benefit from.
    promytius1@...
    • Reading on what, "Kindles and Nooks"? Not so much at all, their share is ..

      ... declining, people buy much more iPads than those electronic books.
      DDERSSS
      • Never saw anyone reading a book on an iPad

        I have ssen them reading books on Kindles.

        Could you possibly be...mistaken?
        William Farrel
    • Very true

      An example of this is computer magazine. Most of them moved to Web versions. However the articles in the Web versions do not have the depth and quality of the articles in the paper copy. Moving to the Web was not a "evolution" but in most cases a regression and a terrible lost. They should simply have raise the price. I still buy computer magazines (mostly Linux magazines) and I often pay as much as $20 for a montly issue. I don't mind paying that much if the quality is there. Switching to recycled paper and raising the price would have been the right move. Of course also keep the good journalists and experts to write those excellent articles that we just can't find now on the Web.
      jslarochelle
  • read what?

    I would be far more interested in what they are reading rather than how much; my sense is that there is more frivolous reading than ever; we need not mourn the loss of books, rather we should mourn the loss of quality creations, and not just in writing; in ALL aspects of culture, we are in decline. That should concern us all, not how we read but what we care to read and what is being created for us to read, to view, to experience, enjoy and benefit from.
    promytius1@...
  • I can read the writing on

    my e-book reader and it agrees with you're conclusion. We will see more high end printed books as collector items though. That could bring back the art of hand printing an binding on smaller scales. There's a lot to be said for the look and feel of a classic, hand leather bound book in your hands.

    For day to day reading though, it seems to make sense to more and more people to read in e-format. It certainly opens up the publishing world to just about anyone who wants to dive in.
    coastin
    • @ ntroling

      i agree completely with what you said. ebooks are great for students and people on the go, but the art of literature, not only the words you read, can be brought back. those truly passionate will have true libraries in their homes the value of printed books may rise if even there maybe less of them?

      what i would like to see is a combination possibly? where if you purchase a physical book you have access to the ebook as well as there are pros and cons to each. imagine having the best of both worlds?
      Marc Longstreet
    • I agree. But...

      the one thing I still can't understand is why I pay $7.99 for a paperback book and the digital book is $7.99? I mean, I know "what's" happening; the publishers are pocketing the money (author probably isn't benefiting from this).

      Myself, I read technical books and science fiction. Makes more sense (for me) to have dozens digital books that I can read on my phone or tablets but keep the house nice and neat.

      Plus, if I want to read some other book entirely and I'm on the train, I can switch almost instantly. Can't do THAT with a print book.
      tallbruva
  • Books

    Many years ago I used to use a Franklin electronic dictionary which could use book cards.
    A small device that I am surprised to see are still sold. Also at the same price, over $50 up to $300. Can't imagine anyone still buying those when these devices are around.
    MoeFugger
    • Books

      I mean with the new tablets and stuff around who would still buy those old Franklins.
      MoeFugger
  • Curiously enough...

    ...I won't buy DRM-encumbered files, which means that pretty much any book under copyright that I buy will be paper. That way, any books I buy will actually be mine (under my control) rather than the publisher's or the provider's, and they're still there when the power goes out (or proprietary e-reader X goes obsolete). I have been reading a fair number of public domain e-books of late, though. They make good emergency reading material (boredom prevention) when I'm out and about.

    So lately, I've been doing two books at once: one paper and one public domain e-book.
    John L. Ries
    • the benefits far outweigh the risks

      The convenience of ereaders is just to great to pass up and there are only handful of books that I will read more than once. And now that kindle supports library loans, I rarely purchase anything. I'm also an amazon prime member and so I can borrow one free book a month directly from Amazon.

      I'm probably never buying a paper book or magazine again.
      otaddy
      • too great to pass up

        Still no edit feature....
        otaddy
      • The books I don't want to reread...

        ...I can always give away, or sell. Can't do that with DRMed e-books, because they're not really the property of the customer.
        John L. Ries
        • true

          And I've been giving away a lot of books lately!
          otaddy
  • hmm

    I got a kindle mid year (based on recommendation) and I've read a few books on it (purchased). The big downside is the lack of pdf support and library borrowing not being available outside of the US. I now realise the Sony would have made more sense. I do like the formatt but I have started borrowing more books from the library again as im not about to replace a 6mth old device. A tablet will help (still waiting for MS to release surface rt in NZ and now will wait to see what Nokia have to offer) but screen still not as good as kindle etc. I still buy some hardcover books as well.
    TKR1
    • kindle supports pdfs

      I have several PDF books/docs on mine.
      otaddy
  • Eink is the key

    E-ink and battery life. Those are my concerns with an e-reader. Right now only ebook readers fill that requirement. Some folks read, other folks READ. I don't mark books up, but will take separate notes if I feel the need to scribble. Only paper and e-ink keep eyestrain away, and only ebook readers have the batter life I want.
    DKFlorida
  • One big problem...

    Technical magazines and journals that think they can "transition to web based distribution".
    I've cancelled 5 PAID subscriptions this year including WindowsITPro and others.
    Books are read front to back and you are done.
    Technical mags are not. Pages are dogeared for later reference. Whole articles are torn out & saved. Many save the entire magazine for quick reference later.
    I know I'm not the only one cancelling subscriptions.
    garylavery
  • RE: Surprised

    That 72% of people read books. Not at all because they are stupid but in todays multitasking world that they have time to. There are so many other sources most of them shorter then books to read.
    edkollin