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Is E-Reading Taking Over the Traditional Paper Book?

Maybe not, but it definitely seems to be catching up. Although paper books, newspapers, magazines and flyers are still appearing in our mailboxes, on newsstands and in stores, the popularity of e-books and Internet-based publications is on the rise. Studies find that the average e-reader is between the ages of 30 and 49, with a household income over $75,000, and a college degree. As this largest social class grows in developed countries, they will have an immense effect on the types of devices that are accessed through different media.

A study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project over the past year shows an immense increase in the use of e-books and the number of e-readers in the US. The Pew Research Center surveyed 2,252 people over the age of 16, coming up with numbers that might lead one to believe it is the end of printed books. Just in the past year, the number of people who are reading e-books rose from 16 percent to 23 percent, demonstrating an increase of almost one-third. It doesn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that while the ratio of e-book readers to printed book readers rose, the ratio of people who read printed books during the past year fell from 72 percent to 67 percent.

Ownership of e-reading devices has also grown, as the percentage of e-reader or tablet owners rose from 18 percent to a staggering 33 percent. The most popular e-reading devices are the iPad and the Kindle Fire, with one quarter of the survey participants claiming that they own one of these, increasing the percentage from 10 percent to 25 percent. Ownership of other devices such as the Kindle and the Nook rose to 19 percent in 2012, nearly doubling from 10 percent in 2011.

These numbers indicate a rapid rise in the popularity of e-reading; this is most likely due to the easy access of material and media, and the simplicity of accessing it on one device, as opposed to many different magazines and newspapers. Libraries and publishing houses must thus begin to accommodate more e-material in order to remain relevant. Pew’s study found that the percentage of people who borrowed an e-book from the library rose to 5 percent from 3 percent, but libraries have work to do in enlarging their e-selections and promoting e-reading.

Libraries can take great advantage of the e-reading trend and dust off their shoulders by embracing this technology. It will most likely help to promote the activity of libraries and create motivation to re-design library spaces so that they can become more influential in their communities.

The publishing market is also able to take this new, and very successful, direction. Acquiring and distributing content is now fast and easy, and allowing for smaller publishers and self-publishers to get their feet in the door. It is important however, for publishers to retain the chestnut that content is king. When the e-reading market becomes saturated, the sale of devices may slow, and users may want to spend money on high quality content that meets their expectations.

Another factor is the ability for libraries, publishing houses and tech giants (like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble) to provide content in multiple formats. Analysts have projected a quick distribution comparable to iTunes in the music industry, whereby readers can access almost any type of digital reading material, buy any section of it for a small price, and download it onto their devices. Although this may result in the abandonment of certain types of paper books, it seems that paper books will not be eradicated, but will become increasingly valuable as more printing presses begin to shut down.

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