Education and Skills

Print books vs e-books: What's America's preference?

Digital book with a cup of coffee.

More adults are reading digital books in the US. Image: Aliis Sinisalu/Unsplash

Michelle Faverio
Research Analyst, Pew Research Center
Andrew Perrin
Research Assistant, Pew Research Center
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  • There has been an uptick in the share of Americans who report reading e-books, from 25% to 30%, despite print book and audiobook consumers staying the same.
  • Demographic differences also impact book reading of adults in the US.
  • 33% of American adults read both digital books and print books, while 9% solely read digital books.

Americans are spreading their book consumption across several formats. The share of adults who have read print books in the past 12 months still outpaces the share using other forms, but 30% now say they have read an e-book in that time frame.

Overall, 75% of U.S. adults say they have read a book in the past 12 months in any format, whether completely or part way through, a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 2011, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8, 2021. Print books remain the most popular format for reading, with 65% of adults saying that they have read a print book in the past year.

While shares of print book readers and audiobook listeners remain mostly unchanged from a Center survey conducted in 2019, there has been an uptick in the share of Americans who report reading e-books, from 25% to 30%.

Have you read?
% of US adults who say they have ___ in the previous 12 months.
Print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audiobooks. Image: Pew Research Center

Americans read an average (mean) of roughly 14 books during the previous 12 months and the typical (median) American read five books in that period, according to the survey. These figures are identical to 2011, when the Center first began conducting surveys of Americans’ book reading habits.

Despite growth in certain digital formats, it remains the case that relatively few Americans only consume digital books (which include audiobooks and e-books) to the exclusion of print. Some 33% of Americans read in these digital formats and also read print books, while 32% say they read only print books. Just 9% of Americans say they only read books in digital formats and have not read any print books in the past 12 months.

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% of US adults who said they have read ___ in the previous 12 months.
A third of Americans say they read both print and digital books in the past year. Image: Pew Research Center

Demographic differences in book reading in 2021 are similar to the patterns seen in past Center surveys. For example, adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree are more likely to be book readers than those who have only attended some college and those with a high school education or less, and adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely to read books than those 65 and older. At the same time, patterns of book consumption among a few groups changed since 2019. Some examples:

Adults with lower incomes – The share of adults with an annual household income of less than $30,000 who have listened to an audiobook has increased 8 percentage points since 2019 (22% vs. 14%).

Urban adults – The share of American adults living in urban communities who say they have read a book in any format in the previous 12 months grew from 75% in 2019 to 81% now – an increase of 6 percentage points.

The table below covers how different groups reported their reading habits in the survey.

% of US adults who say they have ___ in the previous 12 months.
College graduates especially likely to say they read books in any format. Image: Pew Research Center
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