Behind the surge in holiday tablet sales
Now almost a third of Americans own an e-reading device
January 23, 2012
messiah-like potential of these gadgets to revive a flagging industry, consumers went gaga over the devices during the holidays, sparking unprecedented growth in the budding sector. Tablet and e-reader ownership went from 18 percent in mid December to 29 percent in January, meaning nearly a third of the U.S. adult population now owns a digital reading device. Individually, tablet and e-reader ownership stand at 19 percent apiece, up from 10 percent apiece last month. Pew was so surprised by the rapid growth that it actually re-commissioned its survey to ensure it had the right results. With the holiday surge, tablets and e-readers became the fastest-growing tech devices in at least the past decade, outpacing even smartphones and MP3s. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, talks to Media Life about who is buying these devices, why purchases peaked over the holidays, and how these devices will change the publishing industry.
What did you find most interesting or most surprising about this report?
The size of the increased ownership was a big surprise.
We actually commissioned a second survey after we saw the first results just to confirm them because the figures were so different from the December findings. We have never seen an increase of this magnitude this quickly in our 11 years of polling about people’s technology adoption and use.
What’s the most important thing that media buyers and planners can take from it?
Media planners, like many others, are wise to note how quickly the ground is shifting. We have seen in our surveys over the years that the rise of the internet and mobile devices has added complexity to people’s media diets. Most Americans use multiple platforms to get the media they want.
They can’t be exclusively categorized as internet-only users or tablet-only consumers. They use different devices at different moments and depending on their circumstances. So there is a pretty strong imperative for media creators to make their material available on multiple screens.
What really spurred the huge sales of tablets and e-readers this holiday season?
We did not probe that directly, but it’s very clear that the shifting marketplace in both devices was an incentive for purchases. The Kindle Fire and Nook tablet sharply dropped the price point of tablets and the price of newer models of e-book readers fell well below $100. These clearly were popular gifts during the holiday season.
Did the sales rise beyond pre-holiday predictions? Why or why not?
A lot of analysts were predicting these would be popular presents, but I don’t think I saw predictions that had adoption spreading as rapidly as this.
What’s the profile of the average tablet user? What’s driving their purchases?
This looks like a very classic tech adoption story.
The innovators who first got these devices several years ago were young and cosmopolitan. Now the early adoption stage seems to be unfolding and owners are an upscale and older crowd.
One of the most interesting things to see in these data is that there are no racial or ethnic differences in owners and that rural ownership looks pretty much like urban and suburban ownership.
Price is driving this process. Innovation, too. There are new features being added to the devices all the time. And the apps ecosystem is clearly a factor for tablet owners.
What’s the profile of the average e-reader user? What’s driving their purchases?
It was interesting to see that women are outpacing men in owning e-book readers and that the income levels are more diverse for this device. It also helps that more and more books are becoming available in digital form “ both for purchase and for borrowing from libraries.
How do the tablet and e-reader have the potential to reshape the publishing industry (book but also magazine)?
Publishers have moved aggressively into this market, and self-publishing is becoming a force, too. Just this week there have been striking new developments in the e-textbook world.
There is a palpable sense throughout the publishing industry that digital products are the future. Eventually, some are predicting that the experience of reading a book will become quite different in the future as multimedia content is added, as new, revised material is seamlessly introduced to texts, and as people see reading more and more as a social experience that they want to share and contribute to.
Do you think some of these changes will happen sooner rather than later, based on the huge adoption rate?
I’ve never seen timelines on this, but these data might convince people in media companies to speed up whatever they had already planned as the rollout of their digital media products.
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