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Tablets Rekindle Our Love of Reading–Books, Too

Tablets, e-book readers, and digital books are making us want to read again. Plus, they’re inspiring us to read paper books too, and are eating into TV time. Good news!

digital books

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Tablets, e-book readers, and digital books are making us want to read again. Plus, they’re also inspiring us to read paper books too and are eating into TV time. Good news!

We know 2011 is the year of the tablet PC–they’re due in droves, from Apple and every other maker under the sun. Amazon’s also recently revealed the successes of its Kindle platform–and noted that for the first time e-book sales outstripped physical book sales last quarter. With Apple and News Corp. due to release the first semi-traditional newspaper for the iPad, The Daily, this week (stay tuned to this space for coverage), we can see that digital books and magazines are the future of reading.

Good timing then for iModerate Research Technologies and Brock Associates to investigate how people read their digital books on portable electronic devices (or “multifunction devices,” MFDs as the survey prefers to call them). The study involved some in-depth questioning of over 300 MFD owners who’d read a book on their device inside the last six months.

Sixty-six percent of MFD owners say owning one has actually increased their reading habit–great news for publishers who’d maybe worried the new digital era, combined with Net reading addiction would eat into their future. Furthermore, 46% of MFD owners said they’d actually been inspired to read more paper books. Wait … what?

Yup, despite the fact that the survey showed MFD users had great “affinity” for their devices, “struggling to to come up with significant shortcomings to reading ebooks on them” they were also inspired to read more old-school books. Perhaps they were reminded of the pleasures of reading, and were reluctant to haul their Kindle into the bath with them for a book-accompanied relaxing soak?

Still, the study centered on MFDs, and the main reasons readers liked them was their convenience (80% approved of this), the ease of buying new content (61% approved), and their backlit screen (41% approved–but this has us confused, as it seems to rule out e-ink devices like the Kindle). We’re quizzing the organizers on this matter by email right now. Unless readers really do prefer the iPad’s screen to the grayish Kindles?). People also liked the convenience of having a book with them wherever they were, and that unlike “real” books you can tweak the text size, color, and contrast to make reading more comfy. E-books were mostly consumed while traveling (72% of responders), while waiting for an appointment (72%) and relaxing (70%).

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Combined with recent data that iPad use was cutting into prime time TV viewing, and still more data from Yahoo’s ad division that revealed 86% of mobile Net users fiddle with their devices while watching TV (although some of this is going to involve game playing and consumption of non-book digital text content) we can draw one conclusion: The tablet PC and smartphone are causing a true renaissance in reading.

Update: We spoke to Laurie Brock, at Brock Associates, to ask about the inclusion of Kindles in the “MFD” category. She helpfully noted that “some of the MFD readers also had dedicated devices such as the Kindle, Nook or Kobo. But what we studied is their use on multi-function devices and how that affected they’re reading habits. Since we did a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, we picked up anecdotal information about the dedicated devices, but did not report them in the findings.” So there you have it folks: It’s the iPad (plus iPhone, Galaxy tab and Android phones) that’s really driving a renaissance in reading–all those excitable headlines about “iPad to save publishing industry” may be true after all.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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