News for Digital Journalists

January 23, 2012

Tablet/e-reader ownership doubles over holiday gift season, says Pew

More of the U.S. media audience is going mobile, fast—as indicated in the dramatic spike in ownership of media-focused mobile devices over the recent holiday gift season. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found now nearly 30% of U.S. adults now owns either a tablet computer or e-reader device…

According to a new Pew report: “The share of U.S. adults who own tablet computers nearly doubled from 10% to 19% between mid-December and early January and the same surge in growth also applied to e-book readers, which also jumped from 10% to 19% over the same time period. ...The number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18% in December to 29% in January.”

What caused this shift? The introduction of smaller, cheaper tablets such as the Kindle Fire. Although these devices are marketed as e-readers, they actually are modified Android tablets capable of browsing the web, doing e-mail, running apps and more—even though these devices have less functionality than an iPad, and the Kindle Fire in particular is comparatively more clunky to use. Pew’s data considered the Kindle Fire and Nook Color as tablets, rather than e-readers.

Meanwhile, the price of many simpler e-readers (those with e-ink screens and very limited online access, such as the basic Kindle or the Nook Touch) has fallen well below $100. In fact, the New York Times recently started giving away the Nook Touch for free to readers who purchase a $20/month Nook subscription to the Times.

Who’s using tablets more? Pew found a surge in ownership of tablet computers among college graduates and people from wealthier households (annual income over $75,000). “Additionally, those under age 50 saw a particularly significant leap in tablet ownership.”

For simpler e-readers, Pew found different patterns: “Ownership of e-readers among women grew more than among men. Those with more education and higher incomes also lead the pack when it comes to e-book ownership, but the gap between them and others isn’t as dramatic. For instance, 19% of those in households earning $30,000- $50,000 have e-book readers. They are 12% behind those in households earning $75,000 or more in e-book reader ownership. The gap between those income levels on tablet ownership is 20%.”

What does this mean for news publishers? News organizations, entrepreneurial journalists, and other publishers should recognize that e-books are now a bigger market than ever. So 2012 would be a good time to start repackaging your content (or creating spinoffs) in e-book form. See Online Journalism Review’s recent journalist’s guide to e-book publishing for advice on understanding this market and getting started.

Also, when crafting your overall mobile strategy, take the form factor, opportunities, and constraints of smaller tablets into account. Your responsive web design, mobile themes, or app design should should accommodate the Kindle Fire and Nook Color as core use cases. Also make your mobile apps available through Amazon’s app store and the Nook Color app store. Those devices don’t access the full Android Market.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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