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Tablets, e-readers grow more popular: new Pew research

by: Amy Gahran |

Tablet computers and e-book readers are now mainstream media consumption devices. Pew Internet found that 43% of Americans age 16 and over now own either a tablet computer or an e-book reader (such as a Kindle or Nook) -- and the demographics of who's using these devices could affect your digital strategy to inform and engage your community.

According to a new Pew report, tablets are more popular than e-readers, but the popularity of both device types is growing quickly. As of September 2013, 35% of Americans age 16 and older now own a tablet computers (up from 25% last year). Also, 24% own an e-reader device (up from 19% last year).

Pew also gathered data on cell phone and smartphone adoption in this research.

Devices marketed as tablets, rather than e-readers, tend to be costlier. So not surprisingly, Pew found that tablets are most popular among wealthier people. Half of people from households earning $75,000-$99,999/year own a tablet, as well as a whopping 65% of those from households earning over $150,000/year.

Other demographics with especially high tablet adoption rates include English-speaking Asian Americans (50%), college graduates (49%), and youth 16-17 (46%).

In terms of age, there's an interesting gap in tablet adoption rates. Pew also found that 44% of adults 30-49 own a tablet -- but this figure dips slightly to 37% for adults 18-29. However, Pew's latest smartphone data shows a corresponding bump in smartphone adoption for adults 18-29 (compared to youth 16-17 and adults 30-49), perhaps indicating a slight preference in the 18-29 age group for smartphones over tablets.

The line between tablets and e-readers has gotten very fuzzy. When surveying on this topic, Pew defined "tablet" as "a tablet computer like an iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus, or Kindle Fire 4." The Kindle Fire 4 was replaced by Amazon's Kindle Fire HD line of products -- and the Kindle Fire HD sells for as little as $139. But another popular brand marketed primarily as an e-reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD models, is also a modified Android tablet.

As more low-cost Android tablets such as the Kindle Fire and Nook HD make their way to market, tablets are becoming an increasingly viable tool for bridging the digital divide. Which, perhaps, is why Pew found that 22% of people with annual household income less than $30,000/year currently own a tablet.

Which tablets are most popular? It used to be that Apple commanded the largest market share -- but this has changed recently, and most tablets currently in use are Android models. According to ABI Research, "During the second quarter of 2013, the number of Android-powered tablets surpassed iOS-based slates for the first time …and the average selling price of iPad is rapidly approaching the market average."

Pew also examined trends in ownership of dedicated e-book reader devices, such as the basic Kindle and Nook models -- much simpler and less costly devices that do not run a mobile operating system such as iOS or Android. While tablets have gotten far more media and marketing attention, the popularity of e-readers has continued to grow. Pew found that in the last year, 24% of Americans age 16 and up own such a device, compared to just 19% a year before.

Owners of e-book readers are especially likely to be wealthier (38% of those with household annual income of at least $75,000), have a college degree (35%), or be age 30-49.

Of course, use of e-books extends beyond people who own tablets and e-book readers. E-book reading apps (such as the Kindle app or Overdrive) also can be installed on smartphones and computers. Most users tend to own more than one such device (multi-screen users), and switch between them during the day, depending on context.

This means that it might make sense to package more in-depth content that might be useful for your community -- especially if it's available for "offline" reading -- as an e-book, especially in the KF8 format for Amazon Kindle devices and apps, as well as the open EPUB format for other devices and apps.

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Amy Gahran

Amy Gahran is a journalist, editor, trainer, entrepreneur, strategist, and media consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to writing
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