E-Reader Bad News: Some People Want 'Em, But Most Don't

Last Updated Sep 22, 2010 6:49 PM EDT

Many companies see e-readers as the potential savior for the publishing business. Whether books, magazines, or newspapers, retailers, hardware vendors, and publishers hope that electronic formats will draw readers, drive sales, and spark a resurgence of a stumbling industry. However, results from a new Harris Interactive poll suggest that they had better reevaluate the strategy.

According to the survey, 8 percent of adult Americans already use an e-reader, whether a dedicated unit like an Amazon (AMZN) Kindle or a more general device like an Apple (AAPL) iPad. And another 12 percent plan to get one within the next six month. That's a relatively fast adoption and so good news, right? Well, not really.

The problem appears when you look at the part of the population that is less enthused: 21 percent consider themselves are not very likely to purchase an e-reader and 59 percent are not likely at all to buy. If you can project the data accurately in the country (and it's not clear how representative the data is), 4 out of 5 people probably aren't going to get e-readers.

Let's see how this translates into a potential American audience, at least. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau population estimates , there are about 232.5 million people over the age of 18 here. Of that number, 20 percent, or 46.5 million, is the number who express interest in e-readers. However, 8 percent, or 18.6 million, have already purchased, leaving 27.9 million potential buyers.

It's still a sizable number until you realize how fast Apple is already selling iPads -- at least 15 million or more a year, at the current rate. Not all of them are destined for the U.S, but it suggests that Apple alone could potentially satisfy much of the demand. Include all the other tablets about to hit the market, reader software on smartphones, and dedicated devices, and the domestic e-reader space has an interesting year ahead with little to no growth after.

The results are important because many companies -- from Amazon (AMZN), Barnes & Noble (BKS), and Sony (SNE) to all the big print publishers -- have a lot rolling on the popularity of e-readers. Depending on where each stands, the implications may be greater or lesser. For example, companies that publish and sell books, magazines, and newspapers must pay strong attention to e-reader users. Look at these tables from Harris Interactive:



As you might reasonably expect, e-reader users are among the most active book purchasers, so having electronic versions of titles -- and one could guess that this would extend to other printed material as well -- will be vital. However, those who are interested in hardware sales alone will be disappointed.

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Image: Flickr user tobiasbischoff, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.