e-reader (reader) demographics changing

Bain performed research on current and likely future demographics of e-reader users.

The current situation:

early adopters of digital reading devices and multipurpose tablets mostly are already heavy readers. In numbers, they are more often men than women. They also describe themselves as more affluent than average and tend to be in their 20s and early 30s. This group values the flexibility of reading in different settings and the new devices’ ease of use

Their view of the future:

Readers who told us they are considering purchasing digital devices in the near future are mostly women and are older than 35 years of age.


Books won’t go away any time soon. Several indicators from the study show why. First, respondents who have adopted digital formats say they continue to read printed books. This attachment to paper formats also holds for younger generations, even though they were born in the digital era.

Some of this makes sense to me. Obviously my own direct experiences are of South Africa rather than the developed markets surveyed by Bain. I see more and more Kindles on JHB-CPT flights, exactly the demographic that can afford and most values the portability of the Kindle.

It’s fairly obvious that heavy readers will be more likely to purchase an e-reader since they would be more likely to purchase books, read books and ultimately see the value in an e-reader, so no surprises there. The youngish demographic also makes sense as early adopters are typically younger and less wedded to lifetime patterns. Affordability and competing devices (PSPs, iPads, iTouches etc.) with more game options and broader entertainment possibility limit teenage adoption of the devices.

And in South Africa?

My limited, ultra-informal sample from flights in South Africa showed a split between men and women not much different from typical air-travellers, but a demographic closer to 40 than 20 to 30. This might reflect an additional affordability filter in the South African market, but is clearly also a function of the filter of (mostly business) air travel.

The cost of the device, much-reduced ability to lend and resell books, generally low levels of education and thus book-consumption make the mass-adoption of ebooks in South Africa far less certain. On the other hand, the cost and time saving of avoiding physical delivery of books is significantly more valuable in South Africa than in the US, for example.

The Book is Dead. Long Live the Book.

I’m surprised at the confidence with which Bain state that books won’t disappear any time soon. Certainly, books are unlikely to disappear, but in developed markets I expect general printed fiction to go the way of cassette tapes in a decade. The cost of production per book is close to zero and the cost of the readers themselves will plummet as volumes pick up with the early majority hump of the product lifecycle. Reference books, textbooks, and books intended to be browsed rather than read from beginning to end may follow a different path.

Increased consumption, changed distribution and business models

First, the shift to digital publishing could boost book consumption.

My experience is also of increased content consumption via an ereader – the study supports this. Electronic books also have the potential to completely democratise the publishing business, boosting supply and thus further increasing consumption.

I’m sure lawyers will stick with books for another century or two, given their fondness for hard copies of everything.

3D TV eat your heart out, ebooks are the success you only wished you could be.

UPDATE  – some more coverage of stories about ereaders.

Published by David Kirk

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and other commenters and are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organisation. David Kirk runs Milliman’s actuarial consulting practice in Africa. He is an actuary and is the creator of New Business Margin on Revenue. He specialises in risk and capital management, regulatory change and insurance strategy . He also has extensive experience in embedded value reporting, insurance-related IFRS and share option valuation.

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