Report: consumers switch between print and e-books

A new study by the Book Industry Study Group says readers are choosing both print and e-books.

According to the report, Amazon's Kindle Fire has overtaken Apple's iPad for the first time.

After all the e-book fanfare, bookless libraries, and publicized e-reader releases, it looks like the future of reading may not be exclusively electronic after all.

E-book consumers are becoming more diverse in their format preferences, according to a new report by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). The percentage of e-book consumers who “exclusively or mostly” bought books in electronic format decreased from nearly 70 percent in August 2011 to 60 percent in May 2012 – that’s a 10 percent drop in exclusive e-reader usage in less than a year.

After the industry – and many readers – wholeheartedly jumped on the “e-“ bandwagon, why the drop? Are folks deliberately moving away from e-books? That doesn’t appear to be the case, according to study results. Instead, it seems, readers are simply becoming format agnostic. According to the BISG report, the percentage of survey respondents who had no preference for either e-book or print formats, or who bought books in both formats, rose from 25 percent in August 2011 to 34 percent in May 2012. In other words, readers don’t feel committed to one format or the other and are comfortable switching from print to electronic books.

The study also tracked device ownership, revealing that Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet has overtaken Apple’s iPad for the first time. Kindle Fire was on fire – ownership of that tablet grew from seven percent of respondents in December 2011 to 20 percent just six months later. By contrast, Apple’s iPad remained static at around 17 percent. (Ownership of other tablets remains pretty low, with only five percent of respondents owning a Barnes & Noble NOOK and eight percent reporting ownership of another Android-based tablet.)

“Device ownership is an important factor in predicting the future,” Angela Bole, BISG's Deputy Executive Director, said in a statement. “In previous studies, changes in levels of device ownership have presaged changes in e book buying behavior. One of the strengths of this study is that it can plot such evolution, preparing publishers for what e-book consumers want and expect from them next.”

As for us, we’re pleased with the news. As it is in society and in financial portfolios, we think diversity is a great thing in reading formats. Literature, and the ways in which one can experience it, is richer for having the diversity of formats – and we’d hate to see a reading future devoid of either format.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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