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Survey: Apple, Amazon in Race for Mobile Readers? I Think Some Are Reading Too Much Into the Data

Released just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair, there’s a new survey report out this week which looks at smartphone owners and asks how they read.

According to early coverage, Amazon is facing fierce competition for readers on mobile phones. While the retailer is the dominant ebook retailer among respondents, the survey claims that in certain key age groups iBooks is coming in a close second.

Or at least that is the spin that some are putting on this report; I have a different opinion. I’ve read the publicly available data, and I am less than impressed by the report and the news coverage surrounding it.

To start with, I’m not sure that the survey group represents either the population as a whole, smartphone owners, or even just people who read on smartphones. As you can see in the report (embedded as slides at the end of the post), the survey group consists of 3,000 consumers in the US and UK.

Rather than a random sampling of smartphone owners, the group was artificially divided in two groups: 1,000 who (have/do) read ebooks on their smartphones, and 2,000 who (do not / have not) read ebooks on their smartphones.

That bifurcated survey group creates a few problems. For example, the report shows that 43% of respondents had read an ebook on their smartphone.  How many of that 43% came from which group?

The report also shows that 59% of U.K. readers, and 72% of U.S. readers, read more on their smartphone than last year.  But from what group? I can’t tell you because it’s not spelled out.

And that’s not the only issue. Publishers Weekly got an early look at the non-public data, and yesterday they reported that:

Overall, Amazon and Apple represent 81% of the mobile reading market, with the Kindle app enjoying a 50% to 31% total edge over iBooks. But among 18-24 year-olds, the split is nearly even, with 41% reading via the Kindle app, and 39 % reading on iBooks. And that gap could soon evaporate, given Apple’s device edge. The Apple iPhone was voted tops in the mobile device category of the survey, with 40% claiming to be iPhone users, with 28% owning a Samsung device.

That report in the PW initially caught my eye because of the focus on the 18-24 age group. While I can agree on the value of watching this group as a bellwether of hardware adoption, they are not quite so important as book buyers.

It’s not just that teens as a rule have less money to spend, but also that an unrelated survey showed a few weeks ago that the 16-24 age group in the UK preferred paper, and that when it comes to buying ebooks they are price sensitive. A large chunk of that survey group said that ebooks should cost less than £3:

When it comes to paperbacks, 37% of young people said they would pay £5.00-£7.00 and 35% said they would pay £3.00-£5.00. However, they are less willing to pay as much for e-books, with 43% saying they should cost less than £3.00 and 27% saying they should cost between £3.00 and £5.00.

All in all, I am having trouble placing this survey report in context of either readers, book buyers, or mobile device owners. It is true that people are reading more on smartphones and tablets, and that those mobile devices outnumber ereaders by a factor of 20 to one, it’s not clear how this survey report relates to that.

And so I don’t plan to give it much attention after today. Am I wrong? The comments are open.

images by JD Hancocke3Learning

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Timothy Wilhoit October 8, 2014 um 4:47 pm

This study isn’t any better than the last one you reported. If these people had any formal training in how to conduct a proper study, they should demand a refund. Why, for FSM’s sake, would you even HAVE a group that doesn’t read e-books on a smartphone if the question is : Do you read (or have you ever read) an ebook on your smartphone? Well gee, shouldn’t they have included a group that doesn’t have a smartphone? Worse, why is that group twice as large? From that point forward, you know the results are going to be garbage. The way they included "Have you EVER…" includes people that may have tried out a free book and never got another one. The two basic criteria for in the study (not two flipping groups either) should be: 1) You own a smartphone 2) You are a CURRENT reader of e-books on a smartphone. It wouldn’t hurt to include: 1) Do you read on more than your smartphone? and 2) If yes, is the smartphone your preferred method of reading e-books? Thanks for the reminder about the other study. The kids they surveyed in that study saw little value in e-books so it stands to reason they aren’t e-book buyers. Another study designed to give a desired result, how novel. Typical, PW reported on it like it was a valid study…you, on the other hand, had a proper amount of skepticism.

Caleb October 9, 2014 um 8:26 pm

An appropriate study would split smartphone owners into two groups: those who have purchased and read at least one book in the past 12 months and then the other group being those who have not. The goal is to see how likely the first group is to continue buying and reading books on their phones and then realistically how many in the second group might in the future. To see what the overall potential might be. I saw similar studies done among women in the early days of GPS, when the early adopters were 92% males. Garmin learned a lot and made a product women adopted in high numbers, with TV campaigns targeting them with the benefits of the technology, not the features.

Nate Hoffelder October 9, 2014 um 8:42 pm

So basically this survey should have focused on just the one group, and split that? You’re right, that would be interesting and potentially useful.

Thad McIlroy October 10, 2014 um 2:39 am

The survey grabbed the first 500 Americans and 500 Brits who said that they read books on their mobile phones. These were presumably 1000 people willing to take the time on their mobile phones to answer the survey about reading on their phones. The group’s bias should be clear.

What’s missing is offer overall stats on what percentage of readers use cellphones to read. Pew’ Internet and American Life Project’s Jan. 2014 report, E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps ( estimates that less than a third of cellphone owners use them for reading; only 12% use them every day or a few times a week.

The RJI Mobile Media News Consumption Survey (5-14) finds an average of 14% of smartphone owners use them to read books, versus 41% using tablets for reading (

The big unasked question is "Do you buy ebooks on your mobile phone?"

The whole thing is pretty sloppy.

This statement is surely inaccurate: "Nearly half (44%) of smartphone owners in the UK and US said they had read an eBook or part of an eBook on their phones in the last twelve months." According to your slides the 44% is not applicable to ALL smartphone owners, but just to those "who have/do read books on their mobile phones." That’s obviously a far smaller percentage of the whole.

Just as strange is the logic here: "323 million books were sold in the UK in 2013, that means 4.7% of the total UK book market was read on a smartphone." The 323 million is the total number of books sold in both print and digital. I don’t think any of the print books were read on smartphones. Neilsen states that ebook sales were 80 million units, so by their tortured logic some 20% "of the total UK book market was read on a smartphone" which also is certainly false.

Oh well. Next survey please.

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