The share of adults in the United States who own tablet computers nearly doubled from 10 per cent to 19 per cent between mid-December and early January and the same surge in growth also applied to e-book readers, which also jumped from 10 per cent to 19 per cent over the same time period.
The number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18 per cent in December to 29 per cent in January.
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. 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.
These results come from ongoing surveys by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project aimed at tracking growth in the ownership of both devices. A pre-holiday survey was conducted among 2,986 people age 16 and older between November 16 and December 21, 2011 and has a margin of error of +/- two percentage points. The post-holiday data come from the combined results of two surveys – one conducted January 5-8 among 1,000 adults age 18 and older and another conducted January 12-15 of 1,008 adults. The combined surveys have a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points.
The surge in ownership of tablet computers was especially notable among those with higher levels of education and those living in households earning more than $75,000. More than a third of those living in households earning more than $75,000 (36%) now own a tablet computer. And almost a third of those with college educations or higher (31 per cent) own the devices. Additionally, those under age 50 saw a particularly significant leap in tablet ownership.
The story with the growth in e-book readers was somewhat different from the story with tablet computers. Ownership of e-readers among women grew more than among men. Those with more education and higher incomes also lead the pack when it comes to e-book ownership, but the gap between them and others isn’t as dramatic. For instance, 19 per cent of those in households earning $30,000-$50,000 have e-book readers. They are 12 percentage points behind those in households earning $75,000 or more in e-book reader ownership. The gap between those income levels on tablet ownership is 20 percentage points.
The Pew Internet Project is studying the ownership of both devices as part of its effort to understand how people consume media (text, video, and audio) on the devices, how people use them to access the internet, and how mobile connectivity has affected users. This is part of the Project’s larger research agenda supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to look at how these devices are affecting people’s relationship with their local libraries, the services those libraries offer, and the general role of libraries in communities.
The pre-holiday survey conducted by the Project contained an oversample of owners of tablet computers and e-book readers. They were asked about their reading habits and their interactions with their libraries related to e-books and other digital content. The results of those findings will be contained in a report that will be released in the coming weeks.