Two new reports released in the past 10 days document the e-book market’s rapid growth in the U.S. and the U.K., and suggest that a significant global spike is close at hand. Among the major takeaways from the “Bowker Market Research Global eBook Monitor” or GeM, study, e-books are beginning to show strong signs of life internationally, while in the U.S., the latest survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that one in five Americans now say they have read an e-book, and that e-book consumers read more books.

According to Bowker’s v-p of market research, Kelly Gallagher, the GeM data show that the two most developed e-book markets—the U.S. and the U.K.—are following a similar script. “It’s important to note the way in which the U.S. and U.K. markets have copied each other,” Gallagher said during a Webinar last week. “What we see in U.K. market is that they are where the U.S. was about two and a half to three years ago.”

That means the U.K. market is likely to see dramatic growth in the coming months. In the U.S., Gallagher pointed out, the e-book market took off in just a few short months—from October 2010 to January 2011—when e-books shot from 5% of the market to 13%, as the market in the U.K. was just getting started. “In the U.K. market, in December and January, we now see that same kind of hockey stick effect. So in the U.K. market, we see they are about a year behind the U.S. in terms of overall penetration into e-books.” The U.S. market, he added, has retreated from “exponential growth,” settling into more incremental growth, with e-books going from about 13% of the U.S. market to 19% in the past year.

The real action, meanwhile, looks to be in emerging new markets—especially India and Brazil. In all, the GeM study covered 10 countries, with Australia leading the way, with nearly 90% of the population using the Internet and 19% of the total population saying they have purchased an e-book. India, at the bottom, reported just 10% of the population online with 2% of the total Indian population having purchased an e-book. Still, India looks to be a major force, says Bowker’s Jo Henry, noting that India has a population of 1.2 billion, compared to 22 million in Australia, and that India has the greatest percentage of online users buying e-books in the survey. “Of the 10% of Indians online, 24% have purchased an e-book in the last six months,” Henry pointed out. “That is ahead of Australia, the U.S., and the U.K., which we might traditionally have seen as the early movers in this area. Given the high population in India, if you extrapolate from the 2% who have so far purchased an e-book in India, that means more Indians have done so than the British have done.”

Looking ahead, it gets even more interesting. When respondents were asked if they thought they would buy an e-book in the next six months, the data showed the more “mature” markets in Australia, the U.S., and U.K. could see growth as high as 50% over the remainder of 2012. “But we could see massive spikes in Brazil and India,” Henry observed. “The proportion buying an e-book in India in the next six months could double, and the proportion buying an e-book in Brazil could triple. So it’s going to be huge growth coming from some of these emerging markets.”

E-Readers Read More

While the GeM report showed big growth on the horizon globally, a survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that e-book consumers in the U.S. are reading over a third more books than their print-only customers. According to the report, titled “The Rise of E-Reading,” the average reader of e-books says he or she has read 24 books in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by non–e-book consumers.

Overall, Pew found that the number of American adults who say they have read an e-book rose to 21%, compared to 17% reported just a few months ago in December 2011. That jump comes following a holiday season that saw a spike in the ownership of both tablet computers and dedicated e-readers.

Meanwhile, print is still very much in the mix—88% of those who read an e-book in the past year also reported reading a printed book, and, overall 72% of adults reported reading a print book in the last year. In “head-to-head competition,” respondents said they preferred e-books to print when they want “speedy access and portability,” but preferred print for “reading to children” and sharing—the last point worth noting, as most e-book platforms do not allow for sharing. While library e-books were not specifically addressed in the report, the survey also found that e-book consumers were more likely to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it—also understandable given the contentious state of e-book lending in public libraries.

Among the survey’s other major findings: of the 43% who read an e-book in the last year, nearly a quarter reported difficulty in finding the content they wanted; Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet is on fire, growing from 5% of market share in mid-December to 14% in mid-January. Still, Apple’s iPad continues to dominate overall, with a 61% share, as of February 2012. And among those who do not own a tablet or e-reading device, the main reasons are they don’t need or want one; they can’t afford one; they have enough devices already; or they simply prefer print.

The most recent data confirms that “knowledge and storytelling is experiencing a revolution,” observed Pew’s Lee Rainie. “It’s now clear that readers are embracing a new format for books and a significant number are reading more because books can be plucked out of the air.”