Reading E-Books on Smartphones – How popular is it?

Last week, Digital Book World editorial director Jeremy Greenfield shared the details of an interesting (if non-scientific) e-reading study; it was conducted via DBW’s Twitter account, which has more than 20,000 followers.

The tweet itself was simple enough; it read this like: Do you read on your smartphone? Do you read on other devices, too? Tell us!

As of September 11, 30 DBW Twitter followers had answered back, and about half of those respondents answered in the affirmative. The tweets featured in the post were fairly interesting, although most surprising to me was Greenfield’s mention of Michael Tamblyn, Kobo’s EVP of content, sales and merchandising: In a DBW interview conducted earlier this summer, Tamblyn said that he reads almost exclusively on his iPhone. (It’s a fantastic interview, by the way; click here if you’ve got an extra 20 minutes to spare.)

You’ll also find some rather telling smartphone stats in the DBW piece, including these:

According to a new study, 45% of all U.S. adults now own a smartphone, about double the proportion that own dedicated e-readers or tablet computers, currently making smartphones the most common mobile e-reading devices.

The proportion of young adults (18 to 29 years old) who own a smartphone is even higher, with two-thirds owning one, according to the new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Almost the same proportion of U.S. adults aged 30 to 49 year own a smartphone (59%).

With fewer e-book buyers gravitating toward dedicated e-readers as their reading device of choice, tablets, smartphones and other e-reading venues will become more important for publishers to pay attention to. According to two other Pew studies, in the earlier part of this year, about one fifth of U.S. adults owned an e-reader and about the same proportion owned a tablet computer.

Greenfield also points out something that many of us here probably already know: The fact that tablet ownership numbers are being projected to go through roof in the near future: Worldwide, as Greenfield writes in an August 30 post, “about 102 million tablets are set to be shipped to consumers in 2012, while that number is 11 million for e-readers (down from 15 million e-readers in 2011.) In 2017, the number of tablets expected to ship globally is 250 million.

And yet, “just because a consumer owns a tablet computer or smartphone doesn’t mean they will read books on it,” Greenfield adds.

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The following reading-habits statistics come from an April Pew study:

– 42% of e-book readers consume their books on a computer
– 41% of e-book readers use an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks
– 29% of e-book readers read books on their cell phones
– 23% of e-book readers read books on a tablet computer

Did you catch that? According to the Pew study, 29% of e-book readers use their cell phones to read, while only 23% read on tablets. That’s almost difficult to believe, although when you consider the growing omnipresence of smartphones, I suppose it makes more sense. There are certainly a lot more smartphone owners out there than tablet owners.

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“Publishers are already thinking about new ways their content can and should appear on tablets,” Greenfield writes. “Perhaps they should be taking a second look at smartphones, too.”

Personally, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve read—or attempted to read, as the case may be—with four different apps on my smartphone, which runs on Android’s 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS. Interestingly, I’ve found the Google Play Books app to be nearly useless. It’s a little tough to explain the app’s shortcomings to someone who hasn’t used it, but it almost seems as if Play Books’ overarching goal is to prevent users from reading at all.

As for the Nook and Kobo Android apps, I probably haven’t spent enough time with either one to offer an authoritative opinion. What I can say, however, is that the Kindle Android app seems to have them all beat. At this point, it’s the only app I use when reading on my phone, and I doubt I’m alone in that.

Of course, my own phone-reading preferences may vary widely from yours, and that’s why I’m interested in hearing about them. If you have time to leave a comment, here’s what we’d like to know:

1. Do you read e-books of any sort on your smartphone? If so, do you tend to read full-length books, or do you find yourself instead reading articles and Kindle Singles and the like?

2. If you are a smartphone e-reader, what are you app preferences (assuming you’ve tried more than one)? Have you discovered any tricks that have improved your phone-reading experience?

3. And finally, when and why do you find yourself reading on your phone? For example, I like the fact that when I’m in public, my phone is almost always withing arm’s reach—in fact, it’s usually in my back pocket. That means I can read while waiting in like at a grocery store, for instance, or even during a long rush-hour elevator ride at the office.

On a slightly less specific note, if  you have any ideas about how the smartphone reading experience could possibly be improved upon, we’d very much appreciate hearing them.

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Chart | The Rise of E-Reading | Pew Internet and American Life Project

16 Comments on Reading E-Books on Smartphones – How popular is it?

  1. I’ve got the Kindle Android app installed on my phone, and I’ll occasionally use it to continue a book I’ve been reading. I usually have my Kindle (keyboard version) in my bag, though, so I’ll usually go to it instead of opting for my phone.

  2. I was excited when I got a smart phone because I thought I would read books on it and could leave the Kindle at home. The screen on my Droid is big compared to some phones but it’s small enough that I find I don’t like reading on it for long. I think if I had not already used a Kindle (actually several Kindles, K1 K2, K3, and Touch) I might have OK with reading on a phone, but as it is, I still keep my Kindle in my purse.

  3. 1. I read exclusively on my iPhone. Tons and tons. From RSS feeds to articles saved to Instapaper to full-length novels and non-fiction. I’ve read about 35 books on it so far this year.

    2. Stanza used to be the best ereader for iPhone, but has since fallen into disrepair and neglect. iBooks’ skeuomorphism and massive margins are unfortunate distractions from the text. Kobo is spammy and very slow. Bluefire is missing a ton of critical features, including Wikipedia/Google integration, a built-in dictionary, fast highlighting, and progress indicator in library view.

    I use the Kindle app exclusively. I’d like to try Readmill, but they’re iPad only for the moment.

    3. Mostly in bed after I wake up and before I go to sleep. I love being able to read in the dark without a lamp while my wife sleeps. Occasionally in the bus or train. I rarely do any kind of long-form reading on the go, preferring to scan Twitter and Reddit when I don’t have much time.

  4. I do not read ebooks on my phone, and probably will not if I have another option. Right now, I have a dedicated eReader (Kobo Touch) that I am really happy with. I also have the Kobo app on the BlackBerry PlayBook, and although the app has limited fuctions, it serves its purpose if I want to read a book that I have downloaded through Kobo. It syncs with my dedicated eReader so I can pick up where I left off there. I think the size of my smartphone definitely deters me from reading from there.

  5. I read a couple of books on my smartphone a few years ago. I was not thrilled with the experience; the screen was too small and too bright, I found I could only read in very short bursts. However, I did like the fact that if I had a few spare minutes at any point throughout the day I could pull out my phone and read a few pages. This little perk was not enough of an incentive, and stopped after a while.

    A year later I got an eReader and now do the majority of my reading on that.

  6. I mostly read on my iPad and Kindle Touch. The only time I read on my phone is when I’m waiting in line. I only use the Kindle apps because I love the way all my devices stay in sync.

    I used to read exclusively on my phone, but since I’ve had a dedicated ereader, I find the small screen really is a bother, where I used to not mind it at all. Spoiled much? Yeah, maybe. 😉

    I also do almost all my ebook buying from Amazon, which is a change. When I read on my phone and then when I had a Nook Color, I bought from B&N and Amazon about equally. Now it’s just Amazon. I know how to remove DRM and convert. It’s just easier to buy in one place and not have to mess with the extra steps.

  7. I don’t own much in the way of technology. For a short while I had a smart phone and when I discovered the “Books” app. I opened it up, and began reading. I will never own an iPad. The convenience of holding my smart phone and reading with great ease the words in my hand, was for me as close as it got to the real thing, a traditional print book.

  8. I read about a hundred books (mostly novels) a year, almost exclusively on the Kindle apps on iPhone and iPad. I usually use the iPad, but will read on the iPhone if it’s more convenient, I.e., standing in line somewhere, or if the iPad isn’t with me, or convenient. I like being able to hold the iPhone in my hand and “turn” pages with the same hand. None of the other ebook apps compare to the Kindle app, in my opinion, both in reading comfort, convenience and ease of acquiring more books, or in the coordination of reading on more than one app.

  9. I don’t have a smartphone, but given how much I read on my iPod Touch (aka the iPhone without a phone), I expect that I’d do the same with an actual smartphone: read on it everywhere, particularly when I have a 5-10 minute window of time, because it’s convenient and always with me. I like my Nook SimpleTouch, but I end up spending more time reading on the iThing. I’m still creaking by with Stanza (the two most important features: easy browsing of large library and night-mode text).

  10. As a PDA ebook reader for years, then a smartphone reader, I still use my Droid-based smartphone for reading, even though I have a Nook Color and an iPad. I’ve never used the iPad for reading; and I didn’t need a tablet until B&N made magazines available in its store.

    Although I got the Nook Color primarily for magazines, I also use it to read novels. I’m comfortable reading on either device, depending on what I have with me, and which is more convenient at that moment.

  11. I’m a heavy reader, 130 books and counting this year, and. While i do most of my at home reading on a kindle, i frequently use the kindle app on a smartphone or more recently a 7 inch android tablet, the phone mostly for public reading, and both for reading at night. I usually have the same books on all 3 devices and use the kindle sync feature. I prefer reading on the phone in public because whipping out the ereader in public embarasses my boyfriend, and the phone is a lot quicker to access. I primarily use the kindle app because most of my books are kindle – the recent updates to allow narrow margins and shrink line spacing make the text fit better and make it much easier to read on a small screen. For night reading i set it to low light with the black background and it’s pretty comfortable. I occaisionally use overdrive media console for non-kindle library ebooks, but the app isn’t nearly as adjustable.

  12. I love to read on my iPhone. I read full length books, news, anything I can get my hands on. Recently, I have been reading more on the iPad, but that’s because I’ve had manuscripts in pdf format to read, which are impossible to read on the phone. I’ll use the phone to read whenever and wherever, since I always have it on me. I particularly like it at night, when I read myself to sleep.

  13. Downloading e-books on smartphones is convenient since these phones are handy and most of the time, they stick with the owners. The only downside is that smartphones have little internal memory space thereby limiting the e-books that can be downloaded. In my opinion, I’d rather use that little space for other useful applications than e-books.

  14. Another thing I forgot to mention– I don’t like to read on the phone because it uses up the battery. Reading a downloaded book doesn’t use near the power that phone calls and web surfing use, but still, a dead phone is no use at all.

  15. kris says:
    September 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    … I prefer reading on the phone in public because whipping out the ereader in public embarasses my boyfriend …

    HAHAHA OH WOW

    Women …

  16. Rick, you’re assuming that Kris is a woman. And besides, it’s the boyfriend who has the problem.

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