January 18, 2022

Pew Internet Releases Major Report About E-Books & E-Reading in the U.S.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a new report (PDF version) looking at e-book readership. This is the first of several reports that will focus on digital information access and usage.

Subsequent reports will cover how librarians and patrons perceive the situation with e-books and other digital content, and how people in different kinds of communities (urban, suburban, and rural) compare in their reading habits. Further down the line, this research will cover the changing landscape of library services.

Like all Pew Internet reports, The Rise of E-Reading is loaded with statistics and charts. Funding for this report and future reports in this series comes via a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A Selection of Highlights, Graphics (Focusing on Mentions of Libraries) Excerpted from the Report

  • 21% of American adults have read an e-book in the past year.

  • Some 88% of those who read an e-book in the past year also read a printed book. Overall, in the past year, 72% of adults read a print book, compared to the 21% who read an e-book, and 11% who listened to an audiobook.
  • Compared with other book readers, those who read e-books 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 and they often start their search for books online.

Direct to Full Text of Pew Report

  • In a head-to-head competition, people prefer e-books to printed books when they want speedy access and portability, but print wins out when people are reading to children and sharing books with others.
  • Of the 43% of Americans who consumed e-books in the last year or have read other long-form content on digital devices, 23% reported difficulty in finding the e-content they wanted
  • Overall, owners of e-reading devices are more likely than all Americans 16 and older to get book recommendations from people they knew (81% vs. 64%) and bookstore staff (31% vs. 23%). In addition, compared with the general public, owners of e-reading devices who use the internet are also more likely to get recommendations from online bookstores or other websites (56% vs. 34%).

  • 21% of device owners received [ebook] recommendations from libraries or librarians, including library websites. Among device owners, women, whites, college grads, and the most avid readers were more likely than other groups to get recommendations from this source.
  • For internet users who read e-books, online bookstores are the first stop. Asked where they start their search for an e-book they want to read, 75% of e-book readers start their search at an online bookstore or website. Some 12% start at the library.
  • Just as in the case of printed books, the readers of e-books who have library cards are more likely to say they prefer to borrow e-books and those without library cards are more likely than others to say they prefer to buy books.
  • The majority of book readers prefer to buy rather than borrow. A majority of print readers (54%) and readers of e-books (61%) prefer to purchase their own copies of these books. Meanwhile, most audiobook listeners prefer to borrow their audiobooks; just one in three audiobook listeners (32%) prefer to purchase audiobooks they want to listen to, while 61% prefer to borrow them.

As for the most recent book people read:

  • 48% bought it. Owners of e-book readers and tablets were much more likely than others to have bought it.
  • 24% borrowed it from family, friends, or co-workers
  • 14% borrowed it from a library.
  • 13% got it from another source.

We asked all adults in our December 2011 survey where they got book recommendations. 19% said they get recommendations from librarians or library websites. Those most likely to get recommendations this way include: women (23%), 16- and 17-year-olds (36%), college graduates (26%), owners of e-book readers (25%), those who have read a printed book in the past year (23%), and those who have listened to an audiobook (37%).

  • One in twenty e-book readers said that they usually first look for e-books someplace other than an online bookseller or their public library.

Quote from Co-Author of the Report

“E-book readers and tablet computers are finding their place in the rhythms of readers’ lives,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, an author of the e-reading report. “But printed books still serve as the physical currency when people want to share the stories they love.”

Comments and Questions from INFOdocket

  • These general comments are focused on public libraries. We realize that all public libraries are different in terms of budgets and the needs of its users.
  • Finding a model that works publishers and libraries (including giving a library permanent access to titles they purchase is ESSENTIAL given the fact that more and more people are reading e-books. However, as the report makes clear printed books and audiobooks are still important.
  • Libraries ARE about books and e-books but they’re also, especially these days, about so much more or at least they should be. Perhaps most important are the skills and knowledge of the information professionals who are employed by libraries. What are we doing to illustrate this point to users?
  • The report points out that, “people prefer e-books to printed books when they want speedy access and portability.” This makes complete sense but what happens when people visit the library web site to download a few titles and then find extended waits to get their hands on what they want to read. We’re not sure if out-of-copyright titles will always do the trick. Instant gratification and speedy access is great and a key reason to love e-books but what happens to the concept when a user must wait weeks for the e-book they want to read now? What does this say to the end user about the overall value of the library services these days? People are used to waiting for print titles but the “I want it now factor” is not an issue.
  • Forget speed and portability, many bestsellers are not available to libraries. More frustrated users.
  • Can we provide improved access to the many new full-text reports and other documents, available free on the web, that people might want to read on their e-book readers? Should we be adding them to local OPAC’s? We think the answer is yes. If the report is now available in the desired format, we can utilize conversion tools or show users how to do it for themselves.
  • Are we giving the people enough of what they want when it comes to audiobooks? Are there other types of content people would prefer to borrow vs. purchase? What about magazine and newspaper databases? Are people paying for access to articles from the NY Times, Consumer Reports, and other publications even though they can get them free, on-demand, from their local library? People are becoming increasingly aware of e-books via libraries but what about the other digital services and content available?
  • What can libraries and vendors do to make all e-content more findable? This means e-books, articles, audiobooks, etc. I think most info pros know that a very little training can go a long way in making content more findable. How can we reach both current library users as well as those who have little idea of what’s available aside from Google. Of course, as we’ve said in the past, a little Google (web search training) can also go a long way in creating a very useful and practical public service that will also allow a library to market all of its resources including the librarians.
  • What can we do to make the library/library web site a “must visit” for book recommendations as well as place (or website) what people BEGIN there search for e-books?  This means not only via review services but also comments direct from staff to library users. A service like NetGalley might help in making some of this possible. What can we offer that’s  unique vs. an online bookstore.
  • If people PREFER to purchase e-books vs. borrow what does this mean for libraries both now and in the future? Add to this the growing number of subscription e-book services from Amazon.com, Bilbary, and others.The question is are we presently spending a lot of money on books we don’t own while some users prefer other ways of getting access to e-books? What will today and tomorrow’s spending on e-books mean for our permanent print collections not to mention other services? What happens if/when prices increase? Can our budgets handle it without reducing other services?
  • However, it’s essential to NOT FORGET that libraries MUST continue serving those who cannot afford to purchase books, e-books, and Internet access.
  • Finally, the quote from Kathryn Zickuhr is very important and is worth repeating Print books still matter. Our collection budgets forgetting this important point? What could this mean in future years? Do you think this will change?

Direct to Full Text of Pew Report ||| (PDF version)

See Also: Ebooks Trump Print—Except When It Comes to Reading to Kids (via School Library Journal)

See Also: ALA President responds to new report on “The Rise of E-Reading”

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.