E-book readers still owned by small niche

Though e-book readers seem to have become hot products, two recent surveys show that they're still used by only a small percentage of people.

The tech industry buzzes a lot about e-book readers. But how widely are they actually used?

Among 1,529 consumers who responded to a July 2009 questionnaire from research firm In-Stat, only 5.8 percent currently own an e-book reader. And only 11 percent of those questioned said they planned to buy one in the next 12 months, according to the In-Stat report released this week.

Those low results may be even more significant given that In-Stat's survey audience consisted of high-end consumers who typically adopt new technology earlier than the general public.

Another study released last week by Forrester discovered that consumers find e-book readers much too expensive. Extrapolating from the 4,706 U.S. consumers questioned, Forrester found that almost 65 percent of U.S. adults online would consider a price of $98 or less too expensive for an e-book reader but would still purchase one.

Fewer than 20 percent said $99 to $148 was too pricey for a reader though they would still buy one, while 14 percent said the same about readers in the $149 to $198 range.

Forrester Research

Those results are significant in a market where Amazon's least expensive Kindle sells for $299, even after a recent price cut, and Sony's less-pricey Pocket edition Reader sells for $199.

In-Stat's survey found a greater tolerance for high prices. Among its audience, 40 percent of potential buyers would pay $200 to $299 for a reader, 29 percent would pay $100 to $199, and 13.6 percent would pay less than $100.

In-Stat

Among current users of e-book readers, In-Stat found the number one requested feature is e-mail. Potential buyers cited better battery life and Internet connectivity as the two most important factors in persuading them to buy a reader.

Of the number of e-book users questioned in the In-Stat survey, more than 58 percent own the Amazon Kindle, while 9 percent use Sony's Reader. Around 45.5 percent of them spend between $9 and $20 a month on e-books.

In its report, Forrester predicted that 2 million U.S. consumers will buy an e-reader this year, in addition to the 1 million who bought one in 2008.

Forrester's blog dissected the meaning of its survey: "The maximum addressable market for eReaders as they are currently priced is substantial--but to reach the largest market possible, the prices will need to come way down. And even then, eReaders are never going to be as big a market as MP3 players, which 110 million US consumers own."

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