Pew: EBR ownership doubles, tablets up about 14%

Pew: EBR ownership doubles, tablets up about 14%

This is a fascinating survey from the respected Pew Research Center:

Pew report

It compares ownership of EBRs (E-Book Readers, like the NOOK Simple Touch, the Sony Readers, and the Kindles) and tablet computers (like the iPad and the Xoom) in November 2010 with late April/early May 2011.

What they found was remarkable.

When the iPad was coming out (and since), I’ve seen many people suggest that it would spell the end of EBRs.

I’ve always felt that was a techie’s perspective, rather than a reader’s perspective. Some people are both (like me), but a lot of techies seem to not want to believe that reading is cool enough by itself to attract people. πŸ™‚

This survey seems to contradict that.

During this period, ownership of tablets by US adults went from 7% to 8%. That’s a lot..about a 14% increase. I think the population in that age group is on the order of 250 million…that would be about twenty million tablets owned.

However, during the same period, EBR ownership in that groupΒ doubled…from 6% to 12%…that would be about thirty million tablets owned.

Pew says there could be a plus/minus error of 2%, but that still suggests the growth of EBR ownership is much higher than the growth of tablet ownership.

They have other interesting data, including demographics of ownership and overlap: as usual, I recommend you read the original, and in this case, I strongly recommend it. πŸ™‚

I think it’s worth talking about this one number, though.

Will EBR growth continue to outstrip tablet growth? Is the relatively slow tablet growth in those six months a bad sign for that market?

I do think EBR growth is going to continue. I think the NOOK Simple Touch is going to do pretty well, and a $99 Kindle price would cause another spike.

However, tablets may also get a big spike when Amazon (as is strongly rumored) introduces one or two, likely in August of this year.

Here’s another interesting factor.

In 2007, a poll indicated that 27% of Americans adults didn’t read any books in the previous year. They are presumably not a good market for EBRs (although whether they are a good market for tablets or not is a different question…my intuition is that people who don’t read much also tend not to earn as much, and tablets are relatively expensive…but that’s just intuition on my part).

About 20% read more than fifteen books a year, according to this

The Written Nerd blogpost

based on the same poll.

If we arbitrarily say that the 15+ group is the market for EBRs, and the growth rate continues to double in six months, the market for EBRs would be saturated before the end of this year.

EBR sellers can hope for a few things:

  • They can get casual readers to buy EBRs, too
  • The percentage of serious readers is increasing (opening the market)
  • Serious readers want to own more than one EBR
Tablets may not hit the same saturation point as quickly, since they could hypothetically appeal to a broader audience. The Pew report says 56% of these same US adults own a laptop, and some see tablets as taking a chunk of that market.
Of course, some people thought they would kill EBRs, too. πŸ˜‰
What do you think? If you accept the poll, does this surprise you? Is it heartening? Do you think casual readers will buy EBRs? Feel free to let me know by commenting this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

11 Responses to “Pew: EBR ownership doubles, tablets up about 14%”

  1. Marian Says:

    I bought iPad in August and Kindle in December. I use both of them daily, reading a book is much better on Kindle, browsing a web is next to impossible on Kindle. And no, I am not buying every new gadget that is introduced πŸ™‚
    I don’t see myself having more than one EBR (except when upgrading). Really, having Kindle for some books and NOOK for another ? Why would I do that ?
    Market for EBRs is more limited I think, people don’t read that much, they prefer another kind of entertainment. We have two Kindles at home, I share one with my SO (if she occupies it,I use Kindle on iPad) and second belongs to my daughter who is 15 and loves it. I see a space for the third Kindle in my family but then for many years nothing unless they break. In tablets I expect upgrades to happen more often as new applications will require newer hardware and you are forced to upgrade. But in Kindle ? What would be the force to upgrade it ? New processor which allows me to read faster ? :)))))

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Marian!

      Quite a few people have both a tablet and an EBR…they do serve different purposes.

      When people got both a Kindle and a NOOK in the past, it was largely (I think) to get public library books on the NOOK. That’s going to go away when the Kindle can do public library books later this year.

      Would color or animation make you upgrade? It might or might not…

      • Marian Says:

        Color or animation would not be a selling point in my case. But unfortunately it is the future, many useless features just to make people buy new models. The same thing we saw in mobiles.Mobiles today can do miracles, but battery lasts one day.
        In K3 I would like to see just couple of minor improvements – ability to choose mp3 file to play, moving cursor in menu from the top field to the bottom field with just pressing up arrow once….

      • bufocalvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Marian!

        This is an example of where it depends on your use. Many textbooks are highly reliant on color (especially for graphs). That has hampered the adoption of E Ink devices in colleges, I believe. I don’t think adding color would just be to “make people buy new models”.

        It’s interesting that you chose selecting an MP3 as a feature you would add. For some people, the MP3 music capability is a detraction from reading…just as you might find animation. πŸ™‚

        You can select individual MP3s…if you put them in the Audible folder rather than the Music folder. You can only play one at a time, though. That works well for podcasts, Old Time Radio, sound clips, and the like.

        The NOOK Simple Touch dropped MP3 playing, by the way…

  2. Francesco Says:

    If the market for EBRs were confined to to US adults your analysis as to market saturationof EBRs may hold water, but Kindle went global sometime in the reign of the kindle 2 & currently has stores in the UK & Germany. I imagine a Spanish , Indian or Chinise store is somewhere in prospect.

    A sub $100 Kindle would also make a not to expensive gift to a bookworm teenager.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Francesco!

      Yes, the international Kindle 2 was announced on October 7, 2009, and the international DX followed on January 6, 2010.

      That’s a reasonable point. The survey only addressed adults in the US….so it’s hard to judge how close, say, England might be to saturation. I’d be surprised by a Spanish or Indian Kindle store, since Amazon doesn’t have websites specific to those countries. India would also be more of a challenge, due to local devices (like the Pi EBR). I could see Kindles for the remaining country specific Amazon sites…although China is always a special problem, in part due to regulations.

      The country specific sites from Amazon are:


      and the global one, The UK and Germany have their own Kindle stores at this point. I could certainly see it happening in Japan…

      Agreed: a lowered price might get more Kindles into the hands of kids. Amazon has let Barnes & Noble get the marketing edge on selling for kids, in my opinion, and I’m sure Amazon is looking at that.

      • Francesco Says:

        I was thinking in terms of languages rather then countrys. Spanish for the countrys of the old spanish empire, Indian languages for the second most populated country on earth, chinese for the first most & the chinese diaspora. At under $100 an EBR with a phone connection (that is a Kindle) I suspect becomes very competitive with printed books as a way of getting books into the hands of the poor in the third world. Len Edgerly on the Kindle Chronicles has done a couple of podcases on Kindles beeing used in schools in africa.

      • bufocalvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Francesco!

        I’ve suggested language specific Kindles before…that makes sense to me. The menus, keyboard, and the text-to-speech would be for the specific language.

        That would be a challenge in India, since there are already devices, like the Infibeam Pi:

        If by a phone connection, you just mean the wireless, I think we’ll see that. If you mean an actual phone (for voice over IP, perhaps?) that’s something different…not impossible, certainly, but different from the current implementation.

        I’ve been on Len’s show…I think he’s very good. I’ve also written about a few times: that’s likely to be the organization to which you refer. I thought this was interesting video on their Ghana work:

        Their homepage is here:

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I would say that polls such as those you reference are taken over too narrow a baseline, and too short a timeline upon which to make any meaningful predictions of eventual outcomes. Using these stats, I could paint a plausible scenario for EBR growth (even dominance); or to the contrary, a scenario in which tablets dominate.

    I find it helpful to segment the potential customer base into several groupings: general retail consumers (mass market reading), corporate enterprise customers, academics, students, researchers, and small business professionals.

    On the device front (starting from the largest) we have desktops and laptops, tablets, ultrabooks (the only two devices thus far here are the Macbook AIR, and the Samsung Series 9 — there will be more before Christmas, and a veritable flood using Intel’s new trigate chips in early 2012), smartphones, EBRs, cellphones, and PDAs.

    Some of these aren’t particularly relevant to the EBR vs Tablet question, but they provide some insight into the question of a dedicated function versus more general purpose device in buying situations. Many years ago companies like Wang sold dedicated word processors — they were put out of business by the more general purpose desktop PC which still is in wide use within enterprise offices today (and are likely to remain so for reasons of cost and security (lack of portability)). On the other end of the spectrum dedicated function cellphones and PDAs have morphed into today’s smartphones.

    This prompts the question: can I think of a long term successful dedicated function device? I can think of a few relatively trivial examples: wristwatches, calculators, and tv remotes. I guess the question is whether the EBR will join these relatively mundane devices? It’s possible, but IMO I think the price will have to come down to $25 or less (which is not outside the bounds at some point).

    Of more interest to me is what’s going to happen with laptops, netbooks, ultrabooks, and tablets. I think it’s clear at this point that netbooks are toast. Laptops have been the form factor of choice in most customer segments in recent years — outselling desktops..

    Apple, with the iPad, and the MacBook AIR, has introduced two new form factors that are potential game changers. It is quite possible that one or both of these kinds of products could displace the venerable laptop in many customer segments (although probably not from Apple in the corporate arena — Apple’s business model eschews large scale enterprise sales).

    OTOH Many of the iPad competitors are targeted at the enterprise space (although to date I don’t think any of these tablets offers a compelling product for the non-general retail space). Devices in this space offer reading as a “nice to have” feature. I suspect that the real form factor competition over the next 18 months is going to be between tablets and the new ultrabooks on the high end; and new 4G large-screened smartphones vs dedicated EBRs on the low end.

    I have several friends who say that their preferred reading device is something that will fit in a pocket — they are opting for the new larger-screened smartphones instead of tablets or EBRs. I personally find small screen reading devices not to my taste, but whatever floats your boat (even if it is hydrocyanotic acid πŸ™‚ )

    For devices like the MacBook Air, the Samsung Series 9, or the many Ultrabooks (coming in the fourth quarter), extreme performance, light weight, and bragging-right style will govern their ultimate success. The two current models in this segment are too pricey; prices will start to decline almost immediately (new versions of the Macbook Air are expected in about a week). If the price of these can come down into the $800-900 range, then I expect ultrabooks in tandem with 2nd and 3rd generation tablets will spell the death of the traditional laptop — it’s too early to tell whether these will also impact EBR sales. I suspect that for many, ultrabooks/tablets will be too large/heavy for mass market reading, and if EBR prices fall sufficiently, they (EBRs) could be with us for quite a while.

    For non massmarket reading (educational, research, technical, etc) I suspect the additional functionality inherent in tablets/ultrabooks will be the telling factor.

    To be successful over the long haul, EBRs will have to come down in price (a lot), and in size (a bit), and I suspect those that can provide a “cool” “stylish” design will win.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      I’d segment that a bit differently, but it makes sense to break up the market.

      What you are calling “mass market” equates pretty well to what is often called trade (it’s what is meant when we say the Big Six are the six largest US trade publishers).

      I’d segment serious readers from casual readers…selling books to people who read, say, fifty books a year is pretty different from selling to people who read five.

      Single function devices that are still successful? MP3 players, calculators (people still buy them), toasters, microwave ovens, refrigerators…huh, we get ripped off on our kitchen appliances! πŸ˜‰ I know, you probably weren’t talking about that…

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    […]Pew: EBR ownership doubles, tablets up about 14% « I Love My Kindle[…]…

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