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August 16 2012

09:23

April 10 2012

14:00

Pew Survey Shows How E-Books Are Changing the Equation for Publishers, Readers

More Americans are reading e-books than ever, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The most impressive stat from the study is that 21 percent of adults had read an e-book in the past year, but adults are still more likely to read a printed book. Seventy-two percent of adults (age 16 or older) turn the pages the old-fashioned way.

However, the reach of e-books is growing, increasing from 17 percent of adults before the 2011 holiday season, during which thousands of e-reading devices appeared under Christmas trees, to 21 percent immediately after. The poll, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, captured Americans' attitudes toward reading and digital reading in mid-December 2011 and January 2012.

The data showing that e-books are on the rise will not surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the rapid adoption of e-readers. But what the study really sheds light on is how quickly our relationship with reading is changing in the digital age.

Reading is still in decline, but not by much

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According to the study, 22 percent of Americans said they hadn't read a book in the previous 12 months or refused to answer the question. That figure was 12 percent in 1978, 19 percent in 1990, 15 percent in 1999, 14 percent in 2001, 17 percent in 2005, and 22 percent in 2011. Fewer people are reading than ever, but the percentage of people who don't read has been hovering around 20 percent for 20 years now. Increasing use of the Internet since the mid-'90s and ever more available tech gadgets haven't radically changed the percentage of Americans who read books, especially when the study's plus or minus two-percentage-point margin of error is taken into account.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Richard Eoin Nash is a forward-thinking publishing veteran who ran Soft Skull Press, an independent publisher, from 2001 to 2007. He wasn't surprised by this result. "Frankly, this 'reading in decline' business struck me as a bunch of hokum," he said.

Nash currently wears several hats as the founder of Cursor, offering what he describes as a "new, social approach to publishing," the publisher of Cursor's Red Lemonade imprint, and the vice president of Community and Content for Small Demons, a startup that tracks the rich content inside of books, including songs and places referenced in them.

"There is absolutely no sign that reading is in danger," he said. "As a rule, these things tend to get exploited by people looking for stories about how the sky is falling, whether it's because they're looking for funding, or whether it's because every establishment institution that purveys culture in the end is looking for ways to preserve its status. Changes in technology, all other things being equal, tend to undermine its status. So, whether it was Socrates complaining about books or the great comic book scares of the 1950s when four-color printing came about, every time there is a new technology that allows more and different culture to be created, the guardians of the status quo announce that civilization is over."

E-Books Result in More Reading, Even in Men

On the other hand, despite the continued slight decline in reading overall, e-books are increasing the rate of reading among some people. According to Pew, "30 percent of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now. Some 41 percent of tablet owners and 35 percent of e-reading device owners said they are reading more since the advent of e-content."

Many studies have found that men read less than women, and this poll supports that general trend -- 14 percent of men are frequent readers, reading 21 or more books in the past year, while 20 percent of women are frequent readers. However, men who own e-readers report they are reading more now, and men are more avid readers than women of certain categories of material. Men are slightly more likely to read a newspaper daily. Men are more likely than women to read about current events daily (53 percent vs. 46 percent), and men are more likely to read daily for work or school, while women are more likely to read for pleasure. Men are more likely to own only a tablet computer, such as the iPad or Kindle Fire, while women are more likely to own only an e-reader, such as the Kindle or Nook.

Teachers and librarians have often lamented that it's more difficult to interest boys in reading than girls. Could e-books provide a way to interest more boys in reading?

Samantha Becker, research project manager of the U.S. IMPACT Study at the University of Washington's Information School, said, "I think it may be too soon to tell whether e-readers are making readers out of non-readers. But it certainly has the potential to be a hook for boys and other reluctant readers if they are enticed by being able to use technology. The other thing that e-books provide is the ability to link to other resources beyond the print, including videos and other enhanced content that will make reading more fun and interesting. This is an underutilized capability of e-books, particularly for tablets, but I think it will be a growing area of development as the market expands, and eventually there will be books written with enhanced content in mind."

E-Book Enthusiasts are Superlative Readers

E-book users earn a gold star for reading more avidly than any other group. The Pew study finds e-book readers are "relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88 percent of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books. Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They read more frequently for a host of reasons: for pleasure, for research, for current events, and for work or school. They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online."

Significantly for publishers who feel the ground shifting under their feet with recent developments such as the demise of Borders and some other traditional bookstores, e-book readers are more likely to buy the books they read, while other readers are more apt to borrow.

"Is this part of a CD moment?" Nash wondered. "We had this moment in the music business where people embraced the CD player over their cassette player, and they started acquiring a significant amount of CDs. At a certain point, that plateaued as people acquired a critical mass of stuff, and then shifted to a more sedate degree of consumption. By consumption, I mean purchase. The amount they listened to remained the same, but the amount they purchased started to taper off. This is highly speculative. I'm not saying this will happen. But as Nassim Taleb (author of 'The Black Swan') always points out, every straight line going up at a diagonal stops some time."

Given that e-book readers are more likely to purchase books than non e-book readers, every publisher will have to cater to them to stay afloat in the rapidly changing book marketplace. Nash observed that figuring out how to do this is the publishers' problem, not the readers'.

"The interesting thing is the reader doesn't have a problem here," he said. "Because for so long, people could only read what a fairly small group of publishers picked for them to read. Readers were living in an oligopolistic world. So we didn't really have to think very much about readers. They were only peripherally part of the equation. From a cultural standpoint, they were absolutely central. But in terms of talking about the industry, they were an abstraction. They were helpless. Now they have power. Now they can choose not just from a much larger group of publishers than existed before, but also from a bigger chunk of publishing history, as books stay in print longer and books that were out of print get put back into print."

He added, "I would emphasize how significant it is that books are no longer going out of print. Most books published in 1986 were not available in bookstores in 1990, so there was this forgetting. We're sort of living in a science-fiction movie where no one forgets, where everything published stays published. That gives readers tremendous power."

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Do E-books Contribute to the Digital Divide?

The Pew poll, which was conducted in English and Spanish, found Hispanics read less than white or black people, and that lower-income Americans read the least: "A fifth of Americans (18 percent) said they had not read a book in the past year. This group is more likely to be: male than female (23 percent vs. 14 percent), Hispanic than white or black (28 percent vs. 17 percent and 16 percent), age 65 or older (27 percent), lacking a high school diploma (34 percent), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26 percent), unemployed (22 percent), and residents of rural areas (25 percent). Those who did not read a book last year also tended not to be technology users."

Do e-books contribute to the digital divide in which those without access to technology are being left behind in a tech-centered world? Becker said, "I don't know that e-books contribute to the digital divide right now, though that's certainly a possibility in the future if e-publishing overtakes traditional publishing and readers are shut out of participating because of excessive restrictions in borrowing and lending, or prohibitive costs for accessing devices and content.

"I think there is some more interesting research to be done around the intersection of reluctant readers and people who also don't use much technology. It seems likely that those folks are probably living on the margins generally, and lack of reading and use of technology is a symptom of their circumstances rather than a cause. Ensuring that rural, poor, unemployed, and other marginalized groups have access to reading and self-improvement has always been a core value for public libraries, and it continues in ensuring access to technology and digital literacy skills. Librarians see this as part of their mission, and e-book access is becoming part of that mission, too."

Looking Toward the Digital Future

The Pew study shows that Americans have begun to move toward reading books, newspapers, and magazines digitally, without waiting for the publishing industry to figure out how to survive this shift.

Nash reflected on the history of the publishing industry to frame the current moment. "In the last 150 years, publishing became a weird artifact of the industrial revolution," he said. "With the industrial revolution, you tend to have this really stark separation between producer and consumer, because you make money off of scale. In an analogue, mechanical reproduction situation, the primary way you're going to make money is because your marginal costs always decline. It starts high and always it declines. So the more you can print of something, the more money you're going to make on each additional unit. With digital, the marginal cost of reproduction is virtually zero. What we're witnessing most clearly is the slow demise of the industrial revolution model. It's interesting because books began it. Books were the first mass-produced object."

As Pew's research shows, only a few years after their introduction, e-books have arrived as an important part of reading in America, whether publishers and booksellers are ready for them or not.

Photo of e-reader by Anders Hoff on Flickr

Jenny Shank is the author of the novel "The Ringer" (The Permanent Press, 2011), a finalist for the Reading the West Book Awards. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Poets & Writers Magazine, Bust, Dallas Morning News, High Country News and The Onion.

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April 09 2012

15:53

Daily Must Reads, April 9, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung.

1. "When a new medium comes along, embrace its possibilities." -- And other lessons from Mike Wallace's life (Forbes)



2. NBC News presidents explains Zimmerman tape-editing snafu (Mediaite)



3. More than 67 percent of U.S. libraries now offer downloadable e-books (PaidContent)



4. Study: Tablets are not helping publishers expand advertising base (MinOnline)



5. Is Google coming out with its own tablet this year? (Mobile Marketing Daily)




Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!



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February 28 2012

17:00

What Will Bring More Attention to the Civic Value of Journalism?

For this month's Carnival of Journalism I am going to invoke the rule of "no apologies" and change the question a bit. Host Steve Outing asks: "What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?"

I don't think it will be a technology, but an experience. And what will "save" journalism might not be the experience of consuming journalism.

This is an ongoing thought that comes from the second (or third) time I met Michael Maness when he was at Gannett and he talked about human-centered design and the way people relate to their communities. In short -- people relate more to the local businesses they frequent than they do the civic institutions nearby.

If you asked me where I lived in Oakland, I would tell you, "I live across the street from Bakesale Betty's." If you lived anywhere in Oakland then you knew exactly where I lived based on this reference. Everybody knows Bakesale Betty's.

The irony, however, is that I also lived across the street from the Temescal Library. Not just any library, but a Carnegie library. This is a building designed to be communal and civic. I tested this: If I told you I lived by the Temescal library, I'd get stares and a request for further information. "You know, right by Bakesale Betty's" --_ AHHH, I know where you live_, they'd respond.

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This is not a good or bad thing. It's just the thing. But this has consequences. I suspect if Bakesale Betty and the library had competing fundraisers, Betty would outperform the library tenfold.*

A few years later, I've moved to Berkeley.

I now live by a Thai Temple. One would think this would suffer the same fate of the library. It is a communal building, a civic building. Its appeal is seemingly narrow.

But every Sunday the Thai Temple serves brunch. Not just a lame brunch. We are talking a four-star Yelp brunch (474 reviews!). The first sentence of the first review nails it: "There are no words to describe the sense of community you feel when you go to the Thai Buddhist temple for brunch." Come for the brunch -- be nourished by the sense of community. Civic mission accomplished!

When I tell people I live by the Thai Temple they know exactly where I live (although I often have to say "Thai Brunch" for them to really know what I'm talking about).

What is saving the Thai Temple isn't the "Temple" but the experience the community has with it that centers around purchasing food. If that Thai Temple were in peril, people would rally behind it, Buddhist or otherwise.

Local news organizations need to find their Thai Brunch -- so do libraries. In fact, libraries have their "brunch." What I neglected to mention is that the Temescal library (and the new library I live by in Berkeley) both have extensions that are "tool lending libraries." In my experiments telling people I lived by the library, if I focused on the "tool lending" library, people were more likely to know where I lived. It might not be serving their direct "library" mission -- but by creating a tool lending center, both libraries are more central in the community.

So back to Steve's question: "What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?"

Journalism has a value just as libraries do. But that inherent value doesn't have mass appeal. The question is: Can we find something, a game, an experience, a product whose value proposition draws people in and, as a result, brings more attention to the civic value of journalism? Meanwhile -- can that game/experience/product create money both to sustain itself and perhaps flow into the journalism?

We are still in the early stages of the Spot.Us/Public Insight Network merger, but increasingly this is on my mind. It's great that people will contribute to specific reporting endeavors. But those who are doing this are perhaps narrow. They are the same people who might give to NPR or any other nonprofit news organization. We want to create an experience that draws people in for something different.

It's an experience that will have a significant impact on journalism. That experience will be enabled by technology, true, but that's not what people will remember or why they'll get hooked. I don't know if it'll come in the next two years, and I don't know 100% what it will look like. But I do think that's how we'll define it.

*This is not to pick on Betty who everyone knows is awesome, lets people sell the Street Sheet and/or panhandle right in front of her store. She also gives away free ice lemonade sometimes. So don't think I'm trying to pick on you, Betty -- and please continue to hook it up!

A version of this post first appeared here.

January 05 2012

22:22
22:22

April 19 2011

08:59

What do librarians know about apps? Plenty.

Today I had the great pleasure of sitting in a room--a small room--with the FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, as he announced a new project in collaboration with the Knight Foundation: Apps for Communities. This exciting new venture will put $100k of prizes in the hands of folks who dream up creative and useful ways to capitalize on existing public data and connect local folks to local data that solves local issues.

While Chairman Genachowski likely didn't have librarians in mind when nurturing this idea with the Knight Foundation, my first thought was: librarians! You might be thinking, "but I'm not a coder," and that may be true, but you have ideas. And you know your community. And you're crafty, innovative, and smart. What does your community need?

From the FCC:

This challenge is an effort to drive the great technical skills we have in our country out into our local communities. A particular goal is to build new applications to improve access for people who struggle with accessing information and services online: Seniors, non-English speakers, people who are uncomfortable with technology, and others. This contest seeks to bring the value of broadband to people who are, up until now, less likely to be online."

These people are in your library, using your library's services. What do they need? Do they need access to information during a disaster? Do they need to know where urgent care facilities exist and how to get there by public transportation? These were just two ideas shared during the press conference and discussion, but you likely have better, more focused ideas because you know the patrons who walk through your doors.

But what to do with your idea? Well, here's an idea:

One of TechSoup's projects, NetSquared, holds monthly offline events for anyone interested in technology and social impact. These local gatherings are an opportunity to share ideas, learn from one another, and collaborate on projects to create real world impact. What's more, they take place in 80 cities around the world, and if one doesn't exist near you, you can start on AT YOUR LIBRARY! How cool is that? Perhaps this FCC/Knight Foundation challenge is just the venue for you to share your idea with folks who could really make it happen. Try it. Or let me know why not. Or share your idea in the comments. Or just plain get in touch.

March 11 2011

12:07

THE FUTURE OF BOOKS AND LIBRARIES

Question: Libraries in a digital age: Where do books fit in?

Answer: In our digital tablets.

March 04 2011

14:06

Participate in the Follet Challenge!

Follett Corporation has announced a challenge to recognize the most innovative school libraries.

Through the contest the company wants to draw attention to a strong link between well-developed library programs and students achievements. Six winning libraries will be rewarded with the cash-equivalent of products and services, i.e. books, audiovisual materials and electronic resources. The judges, comprised of library and educational professionals,,are looking for schools that “do the most outstanding job of applying technology, content and creativity in ways that engage students, foster literacy and critical thinking”.

 Applications are due June 1, 2011. 

Read more about the challenge and apply!

 

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