Tablets may have more glamour -- but e-readers are proving more popular so far this year, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The number of U.S. adults owning an e-reader has doubled from 6% to 12% between November 2010 and May 2011, while tablet penetration during that period has increased only from 5% to 8%.
And despite the release of scores of new tablet models in 2011, tablet ownership since January has only inched up from 7% to 8%.
"We were a little surprised that tablets didn't keep pace with e-readers, but our guess is that some people are waiting on the tablet market to settle out a bit to see what their options are before making a purchase," said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at the Internet & American Life Project and author of the study. She added that the lower cost of e-readers generally requires less of a financial commitment, making them popular holiday gifts.
Rising competition in the nascent e-reader market has also led to more price-cutting this year. Amazon, for instance, unveiled an ad-supported version of its category-leading Kindle in April for $114, $25 less than the previously least expensive model. The ad-supported Wi-Fi Kindle has since become the top-selling Amazon e-reader. Tablets, by contrast, still typically cost about $500 and up.
From a demographic standpoint, what's interesting is that Hispanics have emerged as a key demographic across both types of devices to date. That suggests the high proportion of Hispanics using smartphones also extends to newer types of connected devices. When it comes to e-readers, uptake among Latinos in the last six months has been faster than among whites and African-Americans.
At the same time, Hispanics have among the highest rates of tablet ownership, at 15%. That's roughly comparable to that of the 17% ownership rate among those with annual household incomes of at least $75,000. But where tablets have been associated to date with reaching an affluent, early-adopter audience, I haven't noticed much discussion around tablets or e-readers as vehicles for marketing specifically to Hispanics.
A study from the Pew Hispanic Center earlier this year showed that while Latinos overall had less access to the Internet than whites, the two groups were fairly similar in proportion when it came to things like use of mobile apps, mobile email and text messaging. Given the findings, it makes sense for advertisers to think of the Hispanic audience when targeting messages to the latest devices.
Women are also a big part of the picture on tablets. The Pew study indicated women for the first time are slightly more likely to own a tablet than men. So unlike other types of consumer technology, tablets haven't been an entirely white, male bastion from the get-go. Research presented earlier this month by Universal McCann SVP Michael Haggerty at the OMMA Tablet Revolutions conference found women 35 to 54 will likely drive tablet sales in 2011.
Tablets, as has become clear, are likely to be shared among family members. About two-thirds of iPads are used by two or more people, according to the UM research. So even at an early stage, the devices have the potential to reach wider audience than might be at first assumed.