Consumers Increasingly Choose Tablets Over E-Readers, E-Book Sales to Suffer

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

As consumers increasingly choose tablet computers over e-readers for e-book reading, the e-book business will be adversely affected, according to a new survey.

Over the course of the past six months, consumers’ preference for dedicated e-readers as a “first choice” reading device declined to 58% from 72%, according to the second installment of the Book Industry Study Group’s Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading survey. At the same time, 24% of e-book buyers prefer to read on tablet devices, up from less than 13% in August 2011 when the first installment of the survey was conducted.

As tablet popularity rises and that of e-readers falls, the e-book business could suffer, according to Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at Bowker Market Research, which partnered with BISG on the survey.

“Tablets will adversely affect the e-book business in that the tablet is a multifunction device and will therefore draw the reader into non-book activities and therefore cause them to consume books slower and therefore buy fewer books versus a single function e-reading device,” said Gallagher.

The survey, conducted among 1,000 e-book buyers in February 2012, has good news for publishers, too. Nearly two thirds of respondents said they spent more money on e-books once they bought an e-reading device of any kind and nearly three quarters said they bought more e-book titles.

In the short term, at least, e-book buying continues to rise despite the growing popularity of tablets.


Free E-Reader?

As consumers increasingly turn to tablets versus e-readers, e-reader manufacturers will respond by lowering prices, said Gallagher. So much so that by year-end, Amazon and Barnes & Noble will be selling e-readers for $0 in order to encourage book-buying and customer loyalty.

“I think Nook and Kindle will actively promote this [a free e-reader] by the end of the year,” said Gallagher. “Both for different interests. Nook because the books drive the business; Give away the razors, sell the replacement blades. And Amazon to keep the reader, customer captured so that they can maintain the buyer for all their other products.”

In December 2012, Hachette Digital head Maja Thomas told Digital Book World, “I’ll expect to see a free reader come on the market with some business model around it and I’m still expecting to see that.”

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Editor’s note: Per Kelly Gallagher’s request, we have added “I think” to the front of his final quotation to reflect that it is an opinion and not fact.

iPad image via pressureUA /

20 thoughts on “Consumers Increasingly Choose Tablets Over E-Readers, E-Book Sales to Suffer

  1. David Bergsland

    It’s a bogus argument, that tablets will reduce reading. I reading several books a week—regardless. I read on my new iPad increasingly because the type is print quality and I’m becoming addicted to some of the advantages of a reader where I can read Kindle, Nook , iBooks, PDFs, or any ebook I get on the same device with no issues at all. Now if Amazon would only upgrade their Kindle reader to KF8 levels of typography. I especially miss the embedded fonts.

    1. Jeremy Greenfield Post author

      Thanks for the comment, David.

      It’s easy to argue that someone who doesn’t have a tablet who buys one is more likely to engage with e-books. But what about someone who goes from reading e-books on a dedicated e-reader to reading on a tablet?

      With all those distractions (email, internet, apps, other media), Gallagher believes that this will slow the reading (and e-book buying) process for some readers.

      I think that’s a solid assertion.

        1. Jeremy Greenfield Post author

          That’s a really interesting point.

          One thing the BISG study digs into is different kinds of readers. Casual e-book readers vs. “power” readers. They behave differently.

          Perhaps, for some class of readers, tablets will actually help increase consumption.

  2. Peter Turner

    “As consumers increasingly turn to tablets versus e-readers, e-reader manufacturers will respond by lowering prices, said Gallagher. So much so that by year-end, Amazon and Barnes & Noble will be selling e-readers for $0 in order to encourage book-buying and customer loyalty.”

    This is an opinion, speculation, right? To assert it as a fact seems a bit beyond the pale.


      1. Kelly Gallagher

        Yes, just to further clarify this is my opinion and not fact related to the potential for a $0 price for
        e-readers… however, as fact, Amazon has already experimented with a free e-reader model so it is
        certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

        1. Peter Turner

          Thank you, Kelly (and Jeremy). I do think it’s a reasoned speculation it’s just that the Tweet with the link back to the post made it sound like a statement of fact. It’s not a big deal, but with all that’s going on in our industry these days we need to be clear about what’s what. Good data and good speculation are incredibly valuable for all of us trying to navigate the emerging landscape.


  3. Tom Paine

    I think a huge challenge is that with a Google Tablet you can download Nook, Kindle, and Sony Reader software so that it allows the reader not to be locked into a single company. I still use a Sony Reader PRS 505 which I am reluctant to give up since I have developed quite an e-library over time. But Sony has fallen way behind Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. But on my smartphone I have software for all three and have books from each of the major vendors.

  4. Mark

    There has been competing media formats within the home long before tablets existed. On any given day one might be considering putting on a record/CD/MP3 stream on the hifi. Or perhaps settlng down of an evening to watch a DVD/Bluray/Netflix film on their TV. Or they may switch on the Wii for some gaming. And yes, even picking up a book from their shelves and leafing through it, or sitting down for immersive reading over a coffee.

    The fact that a device such as a tablet brings all these media into one space does not change the desires of people to consume the type of media they want. They will still settle down to watch a film, listen to tracks, play an app, or read a book. The distractions are still there and ever were.

    eReading, be it on a tablet, an eReader or a smartphone will continue on its current levels of growth for some time, I believe. The fact that we can now access our book without having to take it with us, without even having to take a specific device with us, will ensure ebooks will continue to sell.

    I own an Android tablet, which I use to buy and read to the children (colour display, illustrations better rendered, bigger screen real estate, etc.). My wife and I own Kindles for our own immersive reading. My wife and I have smartphones with Kindle software. SO when I find myself at the bus stop, without my tablet or my Kindle, I can still read by taking out my phone and accessing Kindle which is synchronised via the Cloud. I get home and the Kindle syncs too.

    The important thing about ebooks now is that it is device agnostic. It’s not about eReaders vs. tablets. It is about maximising the opportunity for reading, competing against film, music and gaming. Thus, the current Cloud/multi-device approach will continue to grow sales.

    In this respect, I believe bean counting this device against that device is very much irrelevant.

  5. Tom Stronach

    I was given a Kindle for Xmas 2010, this after stating openly to the family that I would never move from the printed book, I loved it and I still do. The access and availability to books free and much much cheaper than the printed book meant that my indulgence for the ‘written word’ could be maintained without breaking the bank, although I am not quite sure how that’s working out as I seem to be buying even more even at the cheaper prices.

    The thing about the e-reader is that if you have one of these you probably have one of these you are probably also on the internet through a Pc or other device anyway and you probably have a social media account or two so you probably were always popping in and out of those to keep up with what’s going on while still reading via the Kindle.

    You then discover that you can download the app to your PC and you can read via that device which then makes it easier to flip from one medium to the other to keep up but always popping back to the ‘book’.

    I still have my Kindle and do revert back to it, depending where I am, back garden as an example, as this is still, by far, the best way to read an e-book, with its unique e ink print.

    However, I was recently gifted an iPad and downloaded the Kindle app to this, and it HAS TURNED OUT TO BE A DISTRACTION.

    It is so easy to get from book to, Twitter, to FaceBook, to Blog, to email, to messaging with the grand kids, that this has slowed my reading habits down somewhat. This was brought home to me recently when I looked and my ‘virtual’ pile of ‘To Be Read’ books has 23 books in it and last night, while the better half was engaged in dreary TV and when I should have been reading I spent 2 hours playing around on the ipad and messaging the kids, the latter one a reasonable excuse, the former one, not.

    So, yes, I think changing from a dedicated e-reader to a tablet may have a slight deleterious affect somewhere down the line, but if others, like me are still buying and adding to the ‘TBR’ pile, will it really matter to the authors and sellers of books?

  6. Jen Dublin

    I have an Ipad, Nook, and recently got a Kindle Touch. I abandoned the Nook for the Ipad, but discovered that reading for long periods on the Ipad gave me headaches even though I adjusted the brightness level. I had purchased the original Nook but found it a little clunky. After getting too many headaches with the Ipad, I went for the Kindle Touch. Something I swore I would never buy. However, the Kindle is small so it’s easy to carry around. Also, the Kindle is much easier on my eyes for long-term reading. I also wanted a device that was just for reading because I wanted that sense of \I’m holding a book\ not a tablet with a million different things on it.

  7. Ian Wood

    Let me see if I understand this: consumers are increasingly adopting a technology that will allow them to purchase and read e-books from any vendor, independent of e-book platform.

    And this will reduce e-book consumption…because consumers will be distracted from reading e-books by all the other shiny gizmos on the device that allows them to purchase and read e-books any time, anywhere.

    All right then. Let’s check back on this in a year, shall we?

    It’s not. About. The. Platform.

    1. Brian

      Ian, I think it’s probably not unlike television. I might sit down with the intention to watch the news but be diverted (I’m not sure “distracted” is quite the word) to a program that I didn’t realize was airing and that I decide to watch instead.

      The point is probably valid, but that doesn’t make it important. After all, if email (Web-surfing, a game, whatever) can divert me from reading a book it’s probably just an indication of how strongly I was interested in reading the book in the first place.

  8. Carolyn V. Hamilton

    I’m still learning about the technology. If I’m reading the comments correctly, can anyone with a reading device other than Kindle buy, download and read Kindle books from Amazon? I’m asking because I have a romance, Hard Amazon Rain, on Kindle and wonder if I need to do anything else to make it available for Nook and other e-readers. Thanks in advance for any advice.

    1. Brian

      No, Carolyn. There are Kindle apps for computers, laptops, smartphones and people who download the Kindle app to these devices can read your Kindle book. However, proprietary e-reader devices like the Nook cannot support a Kindle app, so it’s still necessary to format the book separately for those devices (and make the book available on those distribution channels).

      The demise of the proprietary e-reader is inevitable, and probably isn’t far off IMHO.

  9. Jonathan Gunson

    In the process of buying a Kindle… and an iPad. So I get to trial it both ways. I’ll report back here with results, although I suspect the Kindle will easily win for text reading.

  10. Steve McIlree

    I am a photography enthusiast, so many of my ebooks are about photography. I started out with an dedicated ereader, but quickly found it was totally unsuitable because of the lack of color. The ereader is now gathering dust, and I do all of my reading on Toshiba Thrive tablet or a rooted NOOK Color when I want a smaller device. Yes, I do occasionally check blogs or Google something, but I use my tablets for reading ebooks around 90% of the time. Until competitively priced color ereaders become available, I believe tablets are the way to go.



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