Many Readers, but Few e-Readers

When the iPad made its debut earlier this year, the whirlwind of publicity might have led us to believe that everyone and his brother would soon be buying some kind of e-reader. But a Harris Poll released this week finds the market is relatively small so far and likely to remain that way for at least the near future.

Eight percent of respondents to the survey (conducted online last month) said they “use an electronic reader device, such as a Kindle, an iPad or a Nook, to read books.” Among those who don’t use an e-reader, 3 percent said they’re “very likely” to get one within the next six months, with another 9 percent saying they’re “somewhat likely” to do so. In a breakdown by age group, interest was highest among the 34-45-year-olds (5 percent “very” and 10 percent “somewhat” likely to get one within the next six months).

The absence of a mass rush to e-readers does not reflect a lack of interest in books. Asked to say how many books they “typically read in an average year,” 40 percent of respondents put the figure at 11 or more, including 19 percent who claimed to read 21 or more. Just 9 percent said they don’t read any books in an average year. Fourteen percent said they read one or two, 20 percent said it’s three to five and 16 percent put the number at six to 10. (The total doesn’t equal 100 percent due to rounding.)

People aren’t just taking books out of the library. Another question in the survey asked respondents to say how many books they bought in the past year. While 21 percent said they didn’t buy any, 17 percent said they bought one or two, 22 percent three to five, 17 percent six to 10, 11 percent 11 to 20 and 12 percent 21 or more.

Older adults sometimes lament that young adults, distracted by new electronic media, lack an interest in books. The responses in this survey don’t support such a notion, though. Forty percent of the 18-33-year-olds reported having bought at least six books in the past year. Granted, the proportion was higher in the 65-and-older cohort (46 percent), but it was a bit lower among the 34-45-year-olds (39 percent) and the 46-64s (36 percent).

The obvious caveat here is that the 18-33 age bracket includes plenty of students, who are (one hopes) obliged to read a book from time to time.