Maybe the difference is too small to count, but 28 percent of Americans surveyed in March and April 2016 said they had read ebooks in the past 12 months, compared to 27 percent the previous year, according to Pew Research. The percentage reading paper books rose from 63 to 65 percent.
So what do the Pew numbers mean?
Well, if Pew is right, so much for Luddites’ hopes that ebooks are fading away. Consumption is at least holding stable despite all the talk about ebooks being on the way out, and despite the price increases that Big Five publishers have inflicted on readers.
Not that nirvana is here—a Nielsen survey released in May 2016 showed that ebooks are a smaller percentage of the market than before and annual unit volume fell in 2015. But then we need to consider such factors as the availability of bestsellers most likely to be popular in E vs. P. I’d suspect that romances, thrillers, and young adult titles such as The Hunger Games series would do especially well as digital books. Perhaps the pickings in those genres were not quite as good as earlier, while paper books benefited from such fads as adult coloring books.
The barrage of negative publicity about “screen reading” has been another challenge for ebooks. Not enough articles and broadcast segments have noted the torture that ebook readers inflict on themselves when they crank up screen brightness too high. Of course, the addition of an all-text boldface option in Amazon hardware and apps could reduce brightness levels required. Come on, Amazon. Smarten up! More typographical option of all kinds would help.
Interpreting the March 7-April 4 numbers from a phone survey of 1,520 people, Pew itself zeroed in on the fact that “Fully 65 percent of Americans have read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that has read an e-book (28%) and more than four times this year that has consumed book content by audiobook (14%).”
However you analyze this, we need to encourage all kinds of reading. In 2011, 79 percent of Pew-surveyed Americans read a book in any format in the past 12 months; in 2016, just 73 percent even though we’re a percent ahead of last year. Family literacy, anyone? And ebook literacy, too—since reading an ebook requires new skills in areas such as navigation and searching? Of course, it doesn’t help that we may soon elect a Nonreader-in-Chief, a perfect negative role model for kids and parents. Even now, according to Pew, the median American reads just four books a year.
As a former poverty beat reporter, I was especially curious about the stats below. They show that when it comes to ebook consumption, the digital divide is alive and well.
I was also interested in Pew’s findings on the platforms used:
As you can see, the real action is on tablets.
You’ll also notice that cell phones are doing well, which is of interest to me, given TeleRead-LibraryCity’s advocacy of cell phone book clubs to help encourage low-income people and members of minorities to read.
Not that cell phones should be the only way to enjoy books, even if they’re what we carry with us all the time! Dedicated ereaders offer fewer distractions from social media and the rest. Via cell phone book clubs and other means we could teach ebook literacy to help people deal with these distractions via the airplane mode and in in other ways. But dedicated E Ink ereaders without social media capabilities, except for Like features to share your enthusiasms on Facebook without leaving the book you’re reading, are the ultimate solution.
What a shame that dedicated ereaders aren’t doing better. In part that could be due to the Amazon Kindle people’s lack of sufficient innovation—and to the devices’ limited typography. In some areas, such as TTS, Kindles on the whole have gone backwards. Amazon would rather that you buy a multimedia Fire tablet and shell out bucks on videos, not just books.
Speaking of platforms, here’s the Pew breakdown for various demographic groups:
“Despite the slight shift in total e-book sales,” Nielsen reports, “one channel within the digital space saw significant growth: smartphones. In fact, e-book consumption via smartphone grew from 7.6% in 2014 to 14.3% in 2015, which is yet another signal of how ubiquitous our handheld best friends have become.”
(Via Digital Book World.)