This post, by Mike Shatzkin, originally appeared on his The Shatzkin Files blog on 4/5/12.
There are a few gems to interpret in the just-released Pew survey of ebook reading.
1. We are getting very close to half (they report 43%) of Americans 16 and older saying they have read a book or other long-form content in digital format in the past year. As other data in the survey suggest, this number is still rising rapidly.
This number is an index of how much of the reading public can be reached without print. Since elsewhere in the data it is reported that only 78% of the people 16 and over have read a book in any format in the past 12 months, it appears that more than half the book readers can be reached without print already.
2. Pew tracked some startling growth around Christmas. Just before the holiday, 17% of Americans 18 and over (sometimes they seem to measure “adult” from age 16, sometimes from age 18) had read an ebook in the previous 12 months. But right after the holiday, that number had jumped to 21%. Remembering that 22% of the population hadn’t read a book at all in the past 12 months, that means that about 27% of book readers report having read an ebook recently. And that number jumped nearly 25% in a month!
3. One of the most startling data points reported is that both tablet ownership and ereader ownership had just about doubled over Christmas, from 10% in mid-December to 19% in mid-January in both cases. With overlap accounted for, Pew estimates that 28% of Americans 18 and over own one or both.
Device ownership is still climbing fast, although it is likely that the overlap, a single person owning both devices, grew faster over this Christmas than it had before. When people get a second device, a replacement or a complementary device, they probably don’t indulge in the same buying spurt as they do when they get their first device. The data summary I saw didn’t correlate the rise in ownership of each of the two devices with the rise in ownership of either of the two devices, which limits our ability to forecast how much content growth we should see following the increase in device penetration.