Boon For E-Books? Older Americans Using Internet at Unprecedented Levels

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

For the first time ever, more than half of Americans 65 and older are on the Internet, according to a new report — and this could mean a whole new growing market for e-book publishers and retailers.

According to the report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 53% of American adults age 65 or older use the Internet or email, up from about 40% less than a year ago. By comparison, 82% of all adults say they use the Internet or email at least occasionally, according to Pew.

Readers in that age group are among the most prolific book buyers, according to research from the Codex-Group, a New York-based book-focused research firm. Book buyers 65 and older buy more books a month than those in the 18-to-24, 25-to-34 and 35-to-44 age groups. Book-buying peaks in the 45-to-54 and 55-to-64 age groups and drops off at 65 and up, possibly due to less disposable income to spend on books.

This is still good news for e-book publishers, said Peter Hildick-Smith, principal at the Codex-Group.

“With reduced mobility, the Internet allows them more purchase access to e-books than to p-books,” he said. “But of course retirees have less disposable income to purchase books.”

There are certain features about e-books that seniors prefer to print books, according to Kathryn Zickuhr, a research specialist at Pew and co-author of the report.

“Seniors that read e-books like the ability to change the type size and appreciate that they can get them at home without having to leave,” she said, referring to an upcoming report from Pew that will discuss libraries and e-books and contains feedback from older adults on how they got started reading e-books and what they like and don’t like about them.

The spike in Internet usage among older Americans may also help them discover more new books to read. A third of online seniors are now using social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, according to the Pew report, up from just 13% two years ago.

Publishers shouldn’t get too excited about this new e-book audience, said James McQuivey, Ph.D. and principal analyst at Forrester who covers the book industry, pointing out that the last group of people to adopt a new technology that allows media consumption are among the least active buyers of that media.

“The seniors who are likely to care about reading would have already joined the Internet club,” he said. “So adding 10 million more seniors to the Internet will mean dipping down into seniors who are more likely to watch Wheel of Fortune than they are to read. There is always a bit of demand left to tap in the back half of the senior adoption curve, but it will be modest.”

Another caveat, according to Hildick-Smith, is that device ownership drives e-book sales, so just increasing Internet use may not necessarily lead to an increase in e-book sales.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Senior citizen on a computer photo via Shutterstock

One thought on “Boon For E-Books? Older Americans Using Internet at Unprecedented Levels

  1. Jay Faubion

    There’s no rule out there that says when you get older you have to be behind the times. I’m 67, and I’m writing books using a laptop, an iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard. Plus, I write software for a living.



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