The rise of e-reading

Fascinating Pew report on the e-reading phenomenon.

Main findings:

A fifth of American adults have read an e-book in the past year and the number of e-book readers grew after a major increase in ownership of e-book reading devices and tablet computers during the holiday gift-giving season.

The average reader of e-books says she has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer.

Those who read e-books report they have read more books in all formats. They reported an average of 24 books in the previous 12 months and had a median of 13 books. Those who do not read e-books say they averaged 15 books in the previous year and the median was 6 books.

For device owners, those who own e-book readers also stand out. They say they have read an average of 24 books in the previous year (vs. 16 books by those who do not own that device). They report having read a median of 12 books (vs. 7 books by those who do not own the device).

Overall, those who reported reading the most books in the past year include: women compared with men; whites compared with minorities; well-educated Americans compared with less-educated Americans; and those age 65 and older compared with younger age groups.

30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now. Some 41% of tablet owners and 35% of e-reading device owners said they are reading more since the advent of e-content. Fully 42% of readers of e-books said they are reading more now that long-form reading material is available in digital format. The longer people have owned an e-book reader or tablet, the more likely they are to say they are reading more: 41% of those who have owned either device for more than a year say they are reading more vs. 35% of those who have owned either device for less than six months who say they are reading more.

Men who own e-reading devices and e-content consumers under age 50 are particularly likely to say they are reading more.

The prevalence of e-book reading is markedly growing, but printed books still dominate the world of book readers. In Pew’s December 2011 survey, they found that 72% of American adults had read a printed book and 11% listened to an audiobook in the previous year, compared with the 17% of adults who had read an e-book.

This is really interesting stuff which, among other things, tends to undermine the widespread meme about the ‘death’ of the book. It’s the old misconception: confusing function with format.

Full report here.

The US Masters remixed

There are only two golf competitions that persuade yours truly to book the family TV for the evening. One of them starts tonight. But I’ve never seen it like this before.

Measuring movie performance

In one of those marvellous coincidences usually dreamed up only by screenwriters, immediately after hitting ‘publish’ on my previous post, an email from my colleague Allegre Hadida popped into my inbox, pointing me at this intriguing video about her recent research paper on the deficiencies of conventional metrics of movie performance. Her findings are intriguing, but so also is this way of drawing attention to one’s research. Other academics could learn a lot from this.

Nostalgia isn’t a business model

On a whim, we went to see The Artist last night, and enjoyed it a lot. It’s a nicely-made, cleverly-written, amusing movie about technological transition in a media industry — the switch from silent movies to “talkies”. It stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a matinee idol of the silent era who cannot come to terms with the fact that the technology has moved on, and the stunningly beautiful Bérénice Bejo as a young actress who adapts easily to talkies and becomes as big a star as Valentin once was. There are three other memorable performances: George Goodman as Al Zimmer, the boss of Kinograph Studios — an archetypal Hollywood mogul; James Cromwell as Clifton, Valentin’s faithful chauffeur; and Valentin’s entrancing dog, played by a canine named Uggie. Personally, I would have given the dog an Oscar.

Two things struck me about the film. Firstly, it took me back to Tim Wu’s book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books), in which he surveys the history of the great US communications industries of the 20th century. Al Zimmer is clearly a version of Adolph Zukor, the mogul who created the modern studio system by industrialising movie production and vertically integrating the business so that he controlled everything from the actors’ contracts and production budgets down to the cinemas in which the products were screened. Wu’s contention is that the history of the telephone, movie, radio and TV industries displays a common feature: they all go through a cycle, in which they start out chaotic and gloriously creative (but anarchic), until eventually a charismatic entrepreneur arrives who brings order to the chaos by offering consumers a more dependable and technologically superior product, the popularity of which enables him to capture the industry. Zukor did that for the movie business, just as — in our time — Steve Jobs did it for the music business. And in The Artist Zimmer immediately grasps the significance of audio and goes for it like an ostrich at a brass doorknob (as PG Wodehouse would have said).

The story line of the film is centred on Valentin’s obstinate refusal to accept the reality created by the new technology. It’ll never catch on, he sneers. People don’t want to hear actors talking. And here I was immediately reminded of the way print journalists reacted to the Internet — and the way academics reacted to Wikipedia. The only difference is that Valentin is rescued from his own obdurate torpor at the last minute, and learns to turn a new trick, whereas some journalists and academics would sooner die than change their minds.

But then, that’s life.

Google’s glass eye

From The Register:

Google has been showing off the expected capabilities of the augmented reality spectacles that it is calling Project Glass.

The early concept designs show wire-framed glasses with a display above the right eye which shows off personal schedules and location-based information. Also included is a camera, a microphone for calls and voice recognition, a GPS, and (presumably) a wireless connector to make the whole thing work. The Chocolate Factory has set up a page on Google+ to get feedback and released a video about a ukulele-playing hipster to show how the glasses would likely work.