February 23, 2017

Is Ereader Adoption Causing an Ereadership Gap?

Some ereader numbers worth considering came out this morning from a polling firm called Harris Interactive.

The survey claims, among other things, that one in ten Americans uses an ereader (is that different than owning an ereader?), and that folks with ereaders are buying a lot more books.

A couple of thoughts:

First of all, I think it’s a real stretch to call eight percent “one in ten Americans.” Eight percent is 2/25, not 1/10, and they’re only counting those over the age of 18 (aren’t little ones Americans?). That’s a rounding gloss of more than four million people (227,431,128 adult Americans * .02 = 4.5 million patrons who suddenly have ereaders! Happy birthday U.S.A., from Harris Interactive!)

Let’s charitably chalk that up to what I like to call “ambitious headline drive.”

I also initially balked at the idea that eight percent of U.S. adults have ereaders (partially because the methodology claim that “[p]ropensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online” for an online-only survey doesn’t quite satisfy me). But then I realized my balking was premature, since I don’t even know what they mean by “ereaders” here. The closest they come to defining this is as “electronic reader device of some kind,” which is broad to say the least. If you count all the dedicated ereading devices and also include hybrid devices like iPads, then yeah, maybe this hits eight percent. (Moreover, if you tweaked the question to ask about “any electronic device on which you read,” I suspect the numbers would jump even higher.)

But let’s put those qualms aside, and assume that these are good-faith numbers that reflect a semblance of reality.

It’s more intriguing is to consider what the analogous results on the library side might be.

I’d certainly love to have reliable figures on what percentage of patrons have ereaders. But also consider these two tables from the survey:

Books Read in a Year (by Ereader Users vs. Non-Users)

Uses Does not use
% %
0 1 10
1-2 3 15
3-5 16 21
6-10 19 16
11-20 36 19
21+ 26 19

Books Purchased in the Last Year (by Ereader Users vs. Non-Users)

Uses Does not use
% %
0 8 22
1-2 8 18
3-5 18 22
6-10 30 16
11-20 17 11
21+ 20 11

Now consider the like library angles.

Do patrons with ereaders read more books, print or digital, than those without? Yes, they probably do (and they probably got the ereader in the first place to be able to achieve as much).

Do patrons with ereaders borrow more materials from their libraries?
Perhaps they do overall, but I also have a nagging suspicion that patrons with ereaders don’t necessarily download proportionately more content than is read by their device-lacking counterparts. In other words, people with ereaders are buying an increasing number of ebooks, but I suspect they’re not increasing the number of digital titles they borrow from libraries at an equivalent rate. If that’s the case, it could be the beginnings if an e-readership gap that could have serious repercussions for libraries as they try to meet demand for front-list materials in ebook formats.

Of course, there’s no easy way to measure this. But I’m curious to hear any anecdotes either way.

Librarians, are your patrons with ereaders clamoring for library ebooks just as they are for digital consumer editions?

Based on the number of times I’ve heard the Sad Tale of the Kindle-Owning Patron Who Can’t Borrow Ebooks, I suspect we still have a ways to go and many negotiations to undertake before before libraries reap the full benefits of any ereader adoption boost.

Josh Hadro About Josh Hadro

Josh Hadro (@hadro on Twitter) is the former Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Well there is not the choice at libraries. And trying to load library e-pubs when you do find one you want is like extracting teeth with a crowbar. Meanwhile in 60 seconds I can download a book from amazon that cost me 9.99 or less. e-books are here for real and libraries are going to have to catch up to the technology or they will be a kiosk at a bus stop

  2. By the way who is mystery man who wrote this, where is he from?

  3. Josh Hadro says:

    Hi Phil — I’m the author of the post, and I’m an editor here at LJ.

  4. Josh Hadro says:

    Update: a recent Pew study puts the percentage of Americans that own ereading devices at 5% http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1763/americans-and-their-gadgets-technology-devices