Pew: E-reader ownership doubles in six months

Faith Merino · June 27, 2011 · Short URL:

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

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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