Ownership of both e-book readers and tablet computers has been growing slowly but steadily for the past few years. But during the most recent holiday season, we saw a major spike in ownership.12 In mid-January, we reported that 19% of adults ages 18 and older owned an e-book reader, and 19% owned a tablet computer, up from 10% ownership for each device in mid-December.13
E-book reader and tablet ownership are strongly correlated with income and education, and are also most popular with adults under age 50. In addition, women are more likely to own e-readers than men, and more parents own tablet computers than non-parents. The tables below show how the ownership population of each device has changed over time – the most recent data come from our surveys in January.
The chart below shows how e-book reading devices and tablets fit into the general mix of device ownership among adults age 18 and older. Overall, tablet users and e-reader users are more likely to own cell phones, desktops, tablets, and e-reading devices.
The contours of the e-book reader and tablet markets
Kindles are the most popular type of e-reading device, and are owned by 62% of those who own e-readers. Another 22% own a Nook, making it the second most popular type. The distribution of types of e-book readers that we saw in our February survey has barely shifted from December 2011, when 63% of e-reader owners age 18 and older owned a Kindle and 23% owned a Nook. The full breakdown of the different types of e-reader devices owned in February 2012 is shown in the pie chart below.
In the tablet market things did shift between December and February. The marketplace for tablet computers saw two important additions in late 2011 with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet, both of which were offered at considerably lower prices than other tablets. The Kindle Fire in particular proved popular over the holiday period. According to Computer World, an analyst at Barclays said 5.5 million Kindle Fire tablets were sold in the fourth quarter (Amazon itself has not released specific data regarding Kindle sales).14
As a result, the Kindle Fire’s popularity among tablet owners age 18 and older grew over the past few months. The Kindle Fire grew in market share from 5% of the market in mid-December to 14% of the tablet market in mid-January. This change also grew as the overall size of the tablet market roughly doubled.
Who intends to buy either device
In our December 2011 survey of Americans age 16 and older, we asked those who do not own these devices whether they are planning to purchase them at all in the future. Some 13% of those who do not currently own e-book readers said they intended to buy one or were considering it – 8% said they hoped to buy one in the next six months and the rest said they were considering it further down the line. Those most interested tend to fall between ages 30 and 64 and have higher levels of education. They are also more likely to be library patrons, readers of e-books on other devices such as their computers, and heavier readers who have read at least six books in the previous 12 months.
At the same time, 18% of non-tablet owners said they intended to buy a tablet or were considering it – 10% said they hoped to buy one in the next six months and another 8% said they were considering it further down the line. Those close to purchasing one were more likely to be under age 50, to be African-American or Hispanic, college graduates, and parents of minor children. They were also generally tech owners – 18% of those who said they owned an e-book reading device also said they planned to purchase a tablet in the next six months. And library card holders were also more likely than non-holders to say they will be buying a tablet in the coming months.
Why people don’t own these devices
In our December 2011 survey, the majority of those who did not currently own an e-book reader or tablet computer said they did not intend to buy them.
Whites who did not own a tablet were more likely than minorities to say that they were not considering purchasing a tablet in the future, while blacks and Hispanics were more likely to say that they were considering purchasing a tablet in the next six months. Adults age 65 and older were far and away the age group most likely to say that they were not considering purchasing a tablet at all in the future, while adults ages 18-49 were generally more likely to say they were planning on purchasing a tablet in the next six months. College graduates and parents were somewhat more likely than other groups to be considering purchasing a tablet computer in the future. E-reader owners were more likely to say they were planning on purchasing a tablet in the next six months than non-ereader owners.
We asked those who did own the devices to tell us the main reason why they did not have one. In our December 2011 survey, the two main reasons non-owners said they did not have a tablet computer or e-book reading device were their lack of need and the high cost of the devices. Beyond those two main reasons, the next most commonly cited reason among people who didn’t own e-readers was that they preferred print books to e-books, while those who didn’t own tablets were likely to say that they had enough gadgets or were content with their current array of devices.
Among those 16 and older who did not own an e-book reader, whites were more likely than minorities to say that they didn’t have one because they prefer books or printed material, while African Americans and Hispanics were more likely than whites to say the main reason they didn’t have an e-reader was because of the cost or because they couldn’t afford it.
Among those who did not own a tablet computer, older adults (age 65+) were more likely to say the main reasons were that they “just didn’t want one” or because they didn’t know (or want to learn) how to use one. Teens and younger adults, particularly adults ages 30-49, were more likely to say that they couldn’t afford one or were happy with the devices they already had. E-reader owners were more likely than non-owners to say that they didn’t own a tablet because they had too many devices.