Americans Are Ditching e-Readers for Their Trusty Cellphones

Today, in news that doesn’t surprise me, the Pew Research Center has revealed through a just-released study that Americans are more likely to read books on their tablets or cellphones than on a dedicated e-reader.

“The share of Americans who read books on tablets or cellphones has increased substantially since 2011,” Pew explains, “while the share using dedicated e-readers has remained stable.”

Notably, the e-readers are not dropping away. They picked their medium of choice way back in 2011 and are staying strong. However, like a tree growing around a bike, the steadily increasing number of cellphone-reading Americans has passed the e-reader crowd by.

Okay, Technically, the Difference Is Just a Few Percentage Points

But the important metric here is that cellphone book reading is still on the rise, while e-book readers have leveled off. Here are the official numbers, from Pew:

“Tablet computer and smartphone ownership have each increased dramatically in recent years, and a growing share of Americans are using these multipurpose mobile devices – rather than dedicated e-readers – to read books. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of Americans who read books on tablet computers has increased nearly fourfold (from 4% to 15%), while the share who read books on smartphones has more than doubled (from 5% to 13%). The share of Americans who read books on desktop or laptop computers has also increased, although by a more modest amount: 11% of Americans now do this, up from 7% in 2011.

By contrast, 8% of Americans now report that they read books using dedicated e-reader devices – nearly identical to the 7% who reported doing so in 2011.”

But Neither Beats Print Book Readers

Print books, which had a 576-year head start, are still ahead. By a lot:

“Readers today can access books in several common digital formats, but print books remain substantially more popular than either e-books or audio books. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (65%) have read a print book in the last year, which is identical to the share of Americans who reported doing so in 2012 (although down slightly from the 71% who reported reading a print book in 2011). By contrast, 28% of Americans have read an e-book […] in the last year.”

Still, the evidence shows that e-readers are a little outdated: Tablets and smartphones can deliver essentially the same book reading experience while also letting people tweet, text, email, and locate the nearest Squirtle.

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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