Can eBooks Make Minority Students More Avid Readers?

A new report from Pew Research Center highlights “the rise of e-reading” and the Americans who read electronically.

Only 1 in 4 Americans read an eBook in 2011
Only one of these students read an eBook last year.

 This is a timely study as more schools and universities investigate how ETEXT can be a core component of next-generation learning.

PCs favored over Tablets
The report has many interesting findings:

  • Readers that are age 16 and older read on a wide range of devices. The lion’s share (42%) of those readers consumer their eBook on a PC.  On surface, this is a surprising finding. However, when you consider that books are published in so many varied formats; reading on a PC makes sense because of the support for those varied formats. Furthermore, until there is some standardization across the market for publishing, the PC will most likely remain the most flexible consumption device.  This is particularly true as the PC form factor continues to evolve in design, weight, and battery life.
  • More people read on a phone (29%) than a tablet computer(23%). So all of the schools buying tablets may be in a for surprise when results do not match their expectations.  My eight year daughter told me that she preferred her Zune HD, Nintendo DS, and iPod Touch over her Windows tablet or iPad.  Her reasoning should be obvious, the other three devices fit into her pocket. Cellphones share the same characteristics of portability and form factor as media players and handheld games.  Her generation will be an important demographic to watch because her peers may share her preference to small screens versus tablets when the graduate high school at the end of this decade.
  • The demographic data on who is reading is telling. Full-time employees and households with low income state that they read less often or never for work or school.  I found this important for high school and college students who work.  ETEXTS may not be the ideal solution for this demographic and more importantly, it certainly should not be the only solution.

When investigating the reasons people read, pleasure top the charts. Reading for work or school was nearly a 50/50 split between those who did  and those who did not.

Another Digital Divide
There were nearly 3000 survey respondents.  I encourage you to dig deep into the data, especially on the demographics.  The average number of books read last year by the respondents was 17. However, the demographic data highlights that there some clear socio-economic variances in the data. Both Black (12) and Hispanic (11) Americans read below the average of 17 than their White counterparts at 19 books read.

A fifth of Americans (18%) said they had not read a book in the past year. This group is more likely to be: male than female (23% vs. 14%), Hispanic than white or black (28% vs. 17% and 16%), age 65 or older (27%), lacking a high school diploma (34%), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26%), unemployed (22%), and residents of rural areas 25%. Those who did not read a book last year also tended not to be technology users.

There are clearly some Digital Divide issues permeating the report.

Literacy v. E-Literacy
While the data shows that those who read eBooks read more than their non-eBook counterparts; it does not suggest that because content is electronic that it will suddenly improve an appetite of or fluency in reading. Readers love to read, regardless of the medium.

If there is any major nugget that should come from this report, is that if we cannot kindle (no pun intended) a love for reading in students–technology alone will not do it. The Pew report found that 4 out of 5 Americans did not read an eBook last year.

Perhaps, we should take the time get literacy done right and let the E-literacy follow. If you think differently or agree, let me know in the comments below. After you have digested the report, I would love to know if your conclusions were different than mine.

Pew Research Center, “The rise of e-reading,” April 5, 2012.