Pew: E-reader ownership doubles in six months

While e-readers are exploding, tablet adoption isn't as dramatic

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
June 27, 2011
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The landscape of device ownership is changing. Tablet ownership is on the rise, but in an interesting twist, the rate of tablet adoption lags behind the rate of e-reader adoption, according to a study released Monday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. Even more interesting is who is adopting e-readers.

In a study of 2,277 adults aged 18 and over between April and May 2011, the study found that e-reader ownership doubled to 12% from 6% in November 2010, marking the first time that e-reader ownership has reached double-digits since Pew researchers began tracking it back in April 2009.

Tablet computers, on the other hand, have seen slower growth. In May 2011, 8% of survey respondents reported owning a tablet computer, which is approximately the same number of people who reported owning a tablet back in January 2011 (7%). In November 2010, tablet ownership hovered around 5%, so there has been some modest growth, but not the same kind of growth as e-readers. True: tablets haven’t been around as long as e-readers, but as the Pew study notes, the penetration of tablets isn’t so much the issue as the adoption rate, which saw a slight lift between November and January, and has since settled into a sluggish growth curve, while e-readers have taken off.

So who is snapping up all those e-readers? Some are obvious: college graduates and adults living in households with incomes of $75,000 a year or more have seen some of the most dramatic growth, but less obvious groups include adults aged 30-49 and Hispanic adults. Of Hispanic respondents who participated in the study, 15% owned an e-reader, compared to 11% of white respondents and 8% of African American respondents. In November 2010, only 5% of Hispanic respondents reported owning an e-reader, compared to 6% of white respondents and 5% of African American respondents.

Additionally, the number of college graduates who claimed to own an e-reader jumped 14 percentage points to 22% from 8% in November 2010. By comparison, 13% of people with some college education own an e-reader, as well as 6% of people with a high school education. High school dropouts comprised the only group in the study to see a decrease in e-reader ownership in May 2011, dropping to 3% from 5% in November 2010.

Among tablets, the adoption rate is markedly different. Interestingly, tablet adoption saw one of the most dramatic increases among Hispanic adults, but unlike e-readers, respondents with some college education saw a more pronounced growth rate than college graduates, as did respondents aged 18-29 (whereas e-readers grew most dramatically among adults aged 30-49).

Another surprising finding that the study unearthed is the fact that for the first time, laptop computers have an almost equal penetration rate as desktop computers (56% to 57%, respectively).  

What could account for the rapid growth rate in e-reader adoption, and the not-so-stellar growth rate in tablet adoption? For the e-readers, it’s likely the dramatic drop in price over the years, coupled with more aggressive marketing campaigns from Amazon and Nook. As for the tablets…my guess is the least creative: the price tag. 


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