Tablet Sales Slow, E-Readers Accelerate

By Gary Kim June 28, 2011

The share of adults in the United States who own an e-book reader doubled to 12 percent in May 2011, up from from six percent in November 2010.  

Tablet computer ownership has grown at much slower rates. In May 2011, eight percent of adults report owning a tablet computer such as an iPad, Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Xoom.  This is roughly the same percentage of adults who reported owning this kind of device in January 2011 (seven percent), and represents just a three percentage-point increase in ownership since November 2010.  Prior to that, tablet ownership had been climbing relatively quickly.


Some observers might suggest the tablet adoption data means the early adopters have embraced tablets, but now the marketing task moves to more mainstream consumers. One might also say e-readers already have crossed that threshold, as many observers would note that, historically, 10 percent penetration is a very important milestone for any new consumer electronics gadget that hopes to become a product owned by most people. 

Over a long period of time, successful, highly-popular consumer electronics products “take off” only after being adopted by about 10 percent of households. That isn’t a guarantee of future success, or even that particular products will succeed, even if the category does. It is to note that it is very hard for any new product or service to succeed. 

Both e-book reader and tablet computer adoption levels among U.S. adults are still well below that of other tech devices that have been on the market longer, which shouild come as no surprise, either. 

About three percent of U.S. adults own both a tablet and an e-reader. Nine percent own an e-book reader but not a tablet, while five percent own a tablet computer but not an e-reader.

But there is another way of looking at matters. Some 29 percent of U.S. households might be “early adopters,” in some regions or areas, according to an exclusive county-by-county analysis of consumers' buying habits by USA Today and the Claritas marketing research firm. 

In that view, some 11 percent of 3,141 U.S. counties have at least 29 percent of households that can be classified as early adopters. These households are most heavily concentrated in metropolitan areas. 

Income isn't the deciding factor for determining who is an early adopter, either. The analysis shows that early adopters are likely to buy and use a lot of tech devices no matter how much they earn. 

By this analysis, adopting technology early is a lifestyle issue, a matter of psychographics more than demographics. The two ways of characterizing the “early adopter” market are not diametrically opposed. 

Early adopters are a minority of consumers and a disproportionate share of early adopters live in only some regions of the country, namely the most-urbanized regions. 

The survey marks the first time that laptop computers are as popular as desktop computers among U.S. adults.  In November of last year, desktop ownership outpaced laptop ownership by eight percentage points, 61 percent to 53 percent.  

Laptops have already overtaken desktops in popularity among adults under age 30, and appear poised to do the same among older adults. 

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Gary Kim is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

Contributing Editor

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