A whopping 54 percent of ebook users multitask while reading their books. And for audiobooks, the equivalent percentage is even higher, 67 percent. Yes, audio books can be just the ticket to enjoy while doing chores.

Those are the preliminary findings of the Panorama Project, a valuable joint initiative of publishers, librarians and others—which among other activities explores book usage in a multimedia context. Panorama-connected researchers at Portland State University also tallied multitasking for TV/movies, 47 percent, print books, 37 percent, and games, 33 percent. More definitive information will come next month. The present stats were unveiled Thursday at a Webinar called Immersive Media & Reading 2020 Consumer Survey Preview.

So what does it all mean? If nothing else, the results hint of potential sales and usage synergies between different media by way of discovery. Some would criticize multitasking. But look at it this way. Your chances of engagement with the same material in a different format are higher. What’s more, think of the extra reading time that a medium like audiobooks can open up for overworked people. Maybe text to speech can, too. I’m wondering: Would publishers make more money if DRM didn’t so often block TTS? Might the extra reading time matter even more than audiobook revenue, which perhaps would not suffer that much anyway, given many consumers’ fondness for human narrators?

Here’s a list of media formats and the kinds of multitasking most likely to occur in each case, starting with the most multitasking-friendly medium and descending from there:

  • Audiobooks—multitasked most often with chores, exercise, or watching TV. “Audio engagement is easier to multitask with than visual engagement,” believes Dr. Rachel Noorda, leader of the Portland State study. “In other words, it is easier to perform a monotonous physical task like exercising or doing chores while engaging with audio through audiobooks or music than it is to perform those tasks while reading a text.”
  • Ebooks. Nineteen percent of the multitaskers “are watching TV, and others are talking with other people, exercising, doing work or homework, commuting/traveling, personal hygiene, playing games, or something else,” Dr. Noorda tells me. Addressing the attention issue, she says: “For ebooks, much can depend on how readers are reading. If it is on a dedicated ereader device, that is more focused than engaging through a phone or in a web browser, where multitasking (scrolling on social media, jumping between emails and the book, etc) is easier.” Hear that, Amazon? Maybe you need to care more about E Ink devices and give us the larger screens that so many of us are rooting for.
  • TV/movies. The most common simultaneous activities are social media, playing games and chores.
  • Print books. Watching TV tops the list.
  • Games. Again, TV. Dr. Noorda says: “Casual vs immersive engagement for games depends on the type of game (mobile games vs strategy computer games, for example).”

Summing up the significance of the study, she says: “I’d like to note that casual/multi-tasking engagement with books or with other media (e.g., mobile games, audiobooks, TV while doing something else) is not necessarily inferior to immersive engagement with media (e.g. print, ebook, strategy games, TV watching not doing anything else). No matter how casual or immersive the engagement, these consumers are still engaging, which translates into book sales and subscriptions, library loans, recommendations to friends and family, etc.”

Other findings of the study:

  • “60.30% said engaging with a book had led to finding a new TV series, film, or game.” “60.65% said engaging with a TV series or movie led them to discover a new book, or game.” “35.16% said engaging with a game led them to discover a book, TV series, or film.”
  • How books are discovered: First, “recommendations from friends”; second, “recommendations from family”; third, “favorite author; forth, “recommendations in social media.”
  • “TV/Movies”: First, “recommendations from friends”; second, “recommendations from family”; third, “commercials/trailers during shows”; fourth, “recommendations on social media.”
  • Games: First, “recommendations from friends”; second, “recommendations on from family”; third, “recommendations on social media.” No fourth listed.
  • Discovery methods: “1. Browsing online bookstores. 2. Browsing brick-and-mortar bookstores. 3. In-person author events (bookstores, libraries, etc.). 4. Browsing shelves in public libraries.”
  • Also: “45.87% of respondents…had bought a book online that they first found in a bookstore (within the last 12 months). 46.95% of respondents had bought a book in a bookstore that they first found online within the last 12 months.”
  • Libraries: “76% of respondents had a library card. If a book is unavailable from the library, respondents are most likely to: 1. Put themselves on hold list. 2. Buy it from an online bookstore. 3. Buy it from a local bookstore. 38.31% of respondents had bought a book online that they first found in a library (within the last 12 months). We are currently gathering data in the second survey wave about consumers who bought a book in a bookstore that they first found in a library.”

Funders of the Panorama Project are the Book Industry Study Group, the Independent Book Publishers Association, the American Library Association, and OverDrive.

A video and PDF of the slides from the Webinar are already available. Props to Panorama’s people, including the new lead, Daniel Albohn, formerly Global Business leader at Sony, for the speed in sharing the information. Meanwhile you can sign up for Panorama’s mailing list.


Sample size of 3850 for 95% confidence level and 1.6% margin of error

Survey deployment in two waves through Qualtrics.

Quotas: race, age, gender, region

5 regions based on the 8 ABA regions

Race, age and gender quotas to match the US census

Approval of process and survey question through PSU’s Instutional Review Board for human ethics.

Panaroma Project

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay