Many E-Book Borrowers Buy, Too, Says Pew Study

The way 98% of people still borrow books.

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

Publishers worried that readers who borrow e-books from libraries don’t buy books can put those worries to rest.

According to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life project, those who borrow e-books from libraries also purchase e-books. When e-book borrowers were asked by Pew how they acquired the last e-book they read, 41% said they bought it.

“E-book borrowers are book lovers,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet project. “They the heaviest book-reading cohort of the ones we measured. They are more into books than even e-book readers, the larger group they fall into.”

E-book borrowers represent about 12% of e-book readers, according to the study. Among e-book readers, about 21% of the population per a Pew study from earlier in the year, the buy rate is a slightly higher 55%.

For Rainie, the takeaway is that e-book borrowers are slightly more likely to borrow an e-book than e-book readers, but are still heavy book buyers.

“E-book borrowers being buyers is a phenomenon that’s true in the print world as well,” said Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association. “We know this anecdotally and this data that shows it is an important finding for us.”

Raphael said that e-book borrowers will discover a book they want to borrow and then see that they have to wait for it to become available and will get impatient and buy it. E-book borrowers also sometimes sample e-books by borrowing them and then buy them.

“Sampling is part of the discovery process in digital media environments,” said Rainie, citing samples of music, articles and movies online.

When you break it down, e-book borrowers only represent 2% of the overall population, according to the study, but are among the most avid readers and buyers of books. To Rainie, that means we’re at the early part of the adoption cycle for an emerging technology. At this point, few people even know that one can borrow e-books from libraries.

Only 58% of library patrons knew their public libraries offered e-books for borrowing, according to the study.

“That number was a genuine surprise,” said Rainie. “Even people that are pretty connected to the e-book world or the library world are also not aware. There are early adopters that are immersed in this world and care about it and there are later adopters and laggards who are not paying attention. That’s playing out here.”

There are programs at libraries designed to educate patrons on e-reading and e-book borrowing, said Raphael, but librarians are not yet aware at how widespread ignorance of e-book lending is. At the ALA meeting in Anaheim, Calif. this week, Pew will be delivering the results of this study.

“One of the points that participants will take away from this conference is that we need to get the word out better that we have e-books,” said Raphael.

The Pew study was conducted by telephone among a nationally representative group of 2,986 people aged 16 and older in the U.S. during November and December 2011.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

4 thoughts on “Many E-Book Borrowers Buy, Too, Says Pew Study

  1. T.M. Roy

    I’ve definitely purchased the books I really liked after reading them at a library. I’ve also ended up purchasing entire series after borrowing the first one or two. When I like a book I want to re-read it, refer to it, own it.

  2. Aureal Williams

    I thought I would always enjoy picking up a book, no longer, though. To my great surprise, I now only read on my ipad. Our Cincinnati, Ohio library is one of the best library systems in the country and I use their digital downloads consistently. What I am waiting for is the ability to get a library card from other places in the country, or the world, even, for digital downloads. I can see that day coming!

  3. Jami Good

    I just found out a couple of weeks ago that libraries have e-books! It seemed so obvious.

    I like that it’s easier to sample books, now that they are in digital format. Then, I can find which ones I want to buy. Just like when I used the library to read paper books or listen to audiobooks.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *