The Pew Internet and American Life Project today released a "mini-report" on the adoption of tablets and e-readers that found the number of Americans owning tablets and e-readers nearly doubled over the holidays. The bottom line numbers represent phenomenal growth in consumer device adoption: from mid-December 2011 to early January 2012, the number of Americans owning a tablet computer rose to 19% from 10%, and the growth in e-book readers jumped an identical amount, to 19% from 10%. Overall, the number of Americans owning either one of these devices jumped from 18% to 29%, meaning that nearly 1 in 3 Americans now owns a device.
“These findings are striking because they come after a period from mid-2011 into the autumn in which there was not much change in the ownership of tablets and e-book readers,” the report notes. “However, as the holiday gift-giving season approached, the marketplace for both devices dramatically shifted. In the tablet world, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet were introduced at considerably cheaper prices than other tablets. In the e-book reader world, some versions of the Kindle and Nook and other readers fell well below $100.”
The research findings were conducted among a sample of nearly 3000 individuals in the pre-holiday season, and two separate surveys of 1000 people each post-holiday; the margin of error for the combined surveys is +/- 2.4 percentage points. The survey work was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Not surprisingly, given their relatively higher prices, tablet adoption rates were highest among those with higher incomes, with 36% of households earning $75,000 or more now owning a tablet, and among individuals with a college education, 31% own tablets. The income and education gaps are much less noticeable for e-readers, although there was more growth among women than men.
E-books have been a hot topic at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, held January 20-24 in Dallas, and with these figures, the topic is about to get hotter. Among the e-book news at the conference, ALA president Molly Raphael and ALA executive director informed a meeting of ALA’s Working Group on Digital Content and Libraries that ALA officials would meet from January 30 to Feb. 1 with publishers currently restricting e-book lending. “I want to assure you that the dialog will begin with us saying ‘you need to deal with libraries and you need to do this as soon as possible,’ then we can have a dialog starting from there,” ALA executive director Keith Fields said, according to a report in Library Journal. “I think for the membership, this is what’s keeping people awake at night.”
That, of course, is not the only thing keeping librarians awake at night when it comes to e-books. The recent launch of Apple's iBooks Author with a proprietary ibooks format, and the tremendous success of the Kindle Fire tablet with Amazon's proprietary KF8 format, highlights the growing silo-ization of the e-book market among competing platforms. And a surge in the growth of e-readers on proprietary platforms means libraries will also face new challenges in ensuring continued equal and comprehensive access to information.