The Chronicle Review

E-Readers Advance in Academe: a 'Chronicle' Survey

June 13, 2010

How common are e-readers in the academic world? Fairly common, apparently.

According to a survey done last month, nearly 40 percent of Chronicle Review readers already own the devices. They are mainly reading fiction and nonfiction books for pleasure, and a large majority (65 percent) are very satisfied, citing the e-readers' portability, large storage capacity, and ease of ordering books instantly.

The most popular device by far among the survey respondents is Amazon's Kindle, but for those who say they will buy one, the iPad is the most popular choice. (Of those who don't currently own an e-reader, 36 percent say they plan to buy one in the next year.) Twenty-six percent spend five to seven hours a week on their e-readers. Thirty-one percent have 11 to 25 books loaded, while slightly more than a quarter have more than 50 books on their devices.

"I love the ability to carry several different types of reading with me so I can select a book at a moment's notice and not plan to carry the print version with me," one reader says.

"I love that I can hover before a word and it links to a dictionary to show/clarify meanings," says another. "I love that I can have so many books available to read at once, wherever I am. I wish more reference books and scholarly publications were available on it."

"The iPad is a paradigm-shifting innovation," another says. "It has revolutionized my work flow and leisure consumption of media. I love it."

The survey, which was done over two weeks in May, received responses from 469 readers.

For fiction and nonfiction books, most respondents say they prefer the e-reader to print—in fact, the majority say they are reading more fiction now than in the past. But for news publications, magazines, and scholarly journals, the majority prefer print.

"I like to be able to browse with the hard copies," says one respondent, "but I like the convenience, the changeable type, and the dictionary features on the Kindle."

"I am open to reading anything on the reader, but that doesn't mean I am throwing in the towel on print," says another.

Preferring to read in print is the main reason cited by those not planning to buy an e-reader in the near future, while cost is another factor. "It is another nail in the coffin for bookstores, browsing, and for persons publishing literature that is worth reading instead of mainstream, commerce-driven crap," says one respondent.

Major dislikes cited in the survey are the inability to share books with others, the selection of books, and the note-taking features. While 39 percent say they use their e-readers to make notes on what they're reading, some say they find the process too difficult. "Note-taking sucks on these devices," as one puts it.

"Major issue now is how to cite materials I've read on Kindle—no page numbers, yikes!" says another.

"I do not find it useful for academic books or for research," still another reader says. "I need to be able to use the index and to flip easily between parts of the book or article. This is cumbersome on the e-reader, which I mainly use for straightforward reading in sequence. It's great for novels and magazines."