'Silver surfers' taking to e-books
The growth of electronic books is closing the technology age gap as more over-55s turn to Apple iPads and Amazon Kindles instead of the familiar paperback.
While so-called ‘silver surfers’ are often thought to be more cautious about new technology than younger people, new research shows that, where e-books are concerned, they are every bit as keen.
Six percent of over-55s own an e-book reader, compared with 5pc of those aged 18-24, according to a survey by Silver Poll.
Of those who own an e-book reader, almost half (47pc) went for the Amazon Kindle, 31pc chose Apple’s iPad and 14pc preferred the Sony Reader.
William Higham, Silver Poll’s managing director, said: “The over-50s are a vital part of any publisher’s audience. They are typically heavy book readers, and up until now they were staunchly traditional in their attitudes to reading. But these new figures show that they are beginning to embrace the electronic book.”
E-book sales have increased enormously over the last year, particularly in the US where an estimated 15pc of all book sales are e-books.
Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Harry Potter books, said its e-book sales grew 18-fold in 2010. Digital books now account for 10pc of Bloomsbury sales as more customers download books to their e-readers.
The group believes Britain is gaining the kind of momentum seen in the US. The trend was highlighted by the success of the 2010 Man Booker Prize winner, Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question: 42pc of that book’s US sales in its first month were electronic books.
Nigel Newton, Bloomsbury’s chief executive, said yesterday that 2011 will be “the year of the e-book”.
Earlier this year, Amazon said that sales of e-books for its Kindle e-reader had overtaken paperback sales from its US site for the first time. However, the UK has been slower to follow the e-book trend.
Richard Palk, general manager of Sony’s digital reader business, Europe, estimates that when Sony began selling its Sony Reader in the UK, in 2008, fewer than 10pc of the 50 top-selling books were available as e-books, now he says that more than 60pc are available.
He said: “It became apparent very quickly that the Sony Reader was appealing to a different age group from the rest of Sony’s products.” People as old as 80 have become regular e-reader users, he said.
“We’re gradually beginning to see the mean age of an e-reader owner come down,” he added. Mr Palk said that e-readers were becoming more popular with teenagers and those in their twenties.
Philip Jones, deputy editor of The Bookseller, said it was no surprise that the over-55s had taken to e-readers. He said: “They are the people who have grown up in the digital world and spent their working lives using digital technology.”
However, he added that older people might simply be “less distractible” than younger people, who might be more tempted to use their iPad for apps and video games.
Though iPads and other tablet devices have more potential for distraction than dedicated e-readers, many reading buffs have said that these gadgets have changed their reading habits.
A survey of e-reader users, presented at the Digital Book World conference in New York earlier this year, found that a major benefit was being able to have several books with you at once. Many respondents said that they found themselves reading more when they had unexpected free time, simply because they had their digital library to hand.
One unexpected benefit for some is that, because e-readers don’t have a cover, your fellow commuters don’t know what you’re reading.
Booksellers have reported strong sales for types of book that would normally be considered embarrassing, such as Mills & Boon novels or even erotica, simply because they can be read in relative privacy on an e-reader.
Silver Poll surveyed 4,000 people - 2,000 aged over 50 and 2,000 aged under 50 - in January 2011.