Who reads ebooks?

eFrog Press is happy to welcome our new Unknown Reader. As she waits for the delivery of her very first ereader, the Unknown Reader answers a question with an ever-changing answer: who reads ebooks?

My first ereader, a Kindle Paperwhite, will arrive on my doorstep by the end of this month (hopefully). But first I want to know who’s already reading ebooks. Which consumers have beat me to the punch?

Reading ebooks  at work

Across the Internet, people have discussed—and continue to discuss—the demographics of ebookies (my coinage for readers of ebooks). For the first time in history, in the first quarter of 2012, adult fiction and non-fiction American ebook sales exceeded hardcover sales. Canada isn’t too far behind the same milestone, and US ebook sales are closing in on paperback sales. Although the numbers for all of 2012 aren’t in yet, each year from 2007 to 2011 saw ebook sales more than double. So who’s propelling these ebook sales into competition with print?

Here’s the rundown of readers.


The Pew Research Center’s April 2012 report reveals the breakdown of America’s ebooking adults that are 18 and older. While most adults reading ebooks are between the ages of 18 and 50, the 50+ crowd is not shying away from new technology. Overall, 29% of book readers 18+ in America have read an ebook in the past year, 21% of all adults (whether or not regular book readers), and 23% of 50-64 year olds surveyed have.

How about readers under 18? Recent publishing sales stats show that the first half of 2012 witnessed a 252% jump in children’s and young adult ebook sales from the same months last year! That said, the Pew study asked adults about reading to a child, and the results showed that printed books are substantially preferred over ebooks. Only 9% of survey participants would choose an ebook to a child, whereas 81% would opt for a print copy.

Another study (pdf) found that when child-parent participants read enhanced ebooks with special interactive features, rather than normal ebooks, there was much more interaction based on using the device than just the content of the literature. However, the non-enhanced children’s ebooks did not show nearly as great a disparity from reading the print version. A follow-up study (pdf) looked at iPad use for children’s ebooks and found that the vast majority of parents (89.9%) read mostly print books and only some ebooks with their kids.


People read ebooks on vacation.

Reading ebooks on vacation

While the Pew report only covered American readers, Great Britain also has high rates of ereadership. As the BBC reports, an 188% increase in digital fiction sales in the first half of 2012 versus the first half of 2011 attests to a surge of ebook reading. China is also engaging in the shift to ebooks—particularly authors looking to avoid censorship, says The Guardian. For more on Chinese, Brazilian, and European markets, check out the projections in The Global eBook Market.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Global Entertainment and Media Outlook (shared with paidContent) predicts that North America’s ebook percentage of book sales will increase over the next four years. They also place their bets on Japan, South Korea, and China as the vanguards of Asian Pacific ebook buying.

Based on the location of readers, a representative for Kobo (the Canadian and top-selling-in-Canada ereader) foresees a distinct type of ebook in demand. While North American and European markets have thrived on the fiction ebook, perhaps emerging markets in India, Brazil, Russia, and China will ask for instructional and educational content.

I predict that the 2012 holiday season, in addition to the release of the revamped Kindle (whose line of ereading products is the ebook industry’s most popular), will prompt plenty more studies of the ereading populace.


Reading  ebooks at a park

What other attributes may contribute to the vast sea of ereading people? Technology-savvy readers may enjoy pushing the limits of what an ereader can do, such as creating a weather display or exporting wikipedia articles to read on the go.

Various vision conditions may benefit from enlarged text or contrast. Also, the ability to space print differently on digital interfaces suggests that ebooks may be helpful for dyslexic readers.

Though illegal, ebook pirating has a financial draw to people who want to neither pay for books nor accumulate more belongings—especially college students looking for textbooks whose costs pile on top of loans and tuition.

As technology progresses, and as ereading becomes more affordable, widespread, and studied, the composition of the ebookie world will become clearer. How would you design and implement a survey to find out more?

Please share

What trends have you noticed among your friends and family? Who do you see reading ebooks?

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2 Responses to “Who reads ebooks?”

  1. Evan Dulliere Says:

    I finally got a kindle and it’s amazing how many titles are out there to download for free. The Classics. Public Domain stuff. I’m excited about how much easier it is for unknown authors with good work to get their work into ‘print’ than before eBooks.

  2. Unknown Reader Says:

    Isn’t it marvelous? I’m super impressed by the indie titles coming out (and how affordable it is for me to read them). Despite formatting shortcomings, the Project Gutenberg has an amazing free selection…so much Sherlock Holmes to enjoy!

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