January 24, 2014 Last Updated 4:41 pm

Tablet, eReader ownership grows, as does the market for eBooks

Latest Pew research shows steady growth of both digital media and the devices needed to consume them

The next Apple earnings report is due on Monday after the bell, and whispers (shouts, really) are that Apple will report robust iPad sales. With the recent introduction of both new iPads from Apple and new Kindle Fire models from Amazon, there is no reason not to expect ownership numbers among American adults to have continued to climb.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project Omnibus Survey, released last week, that is what we are seeing. According to the report, tablet and eReader ownership in the U.S. among adults has reached 50 percent, with 42 percent owning tablets and 32 percent owning an eReader. As tablets and eReaders can be shared, it can be assumed that the household penetration for the devices has reached a point whereby publishers can almost assume that they have access to a majority of homes through tablet products.

Tabs-chart-1Although there is a gap in Pew’s numbers for 2013, the survey finds that eBook readership continues to trend right along with ownership. 28 percent of American adults say they have read an eBook in the past year, up 5 percent over 2012, and 11 percent over 2011.

The rise in digital publishing products appears to mirror the decline in print reading – or so it seems. Some media observers panicked somewhat when Pew’s News Consumption Survey, conducted in 2012, showed that the daily newspaper, magazine and book reading habit seemed to be declining. The survey showed that when asked if they had read a print newspaper yesterday that only 23 percent of those surveyed said yes, down from 41 percent in 2002. Magazines fell to 17 percent from 23 percent in 2002, and print books to 30 percent from 34 percent in 2002. (The key word here is yesterday, which is why the book reading numbers at first do not appear to jive with the new data – one is measuring daily reading habits, the other survey looked at habits over a year.)

While print publishers might panic a bit over the decline in reading habits of print products, others might see that printed material is more and more becoming a leisure time activity, where the reader picks up their printed material on off hours. Many newspaper subscribers are canceling their daily home delivery, for instance, and choosing to go with only the Sunday paper with its feature sections and advertising inserts.

Despite the growth of eBooks, basic book reading habits are little changed. While 79 percent said they read a book in any format in 2011, the latest report for 2014 says 76 percent had, well within the margin for error if you will. 2012 showed dips in both overall book reading and print books in particular, but this may simply be a reflection of a poor economy, the decline in the number of bookstores, no nothing at all as eBook reading rose 35 percent that year.

It would be interesting for Pew to repeat its News Consumption Survey adding in a question about whether the respondent read a digital newspaper, magazine or book yesterday, then add the results to print survey results. Is the reading habit declining? Or simply shifting?

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