Smartphones surprise by outstripping tablets 9:1 for ebook reading

Chart: Time spent on games, books and videos, by form factor

Smartphones are dramatically ahead of tablets when it comes to time spent reading books, according to a new study which tracks usage of the 1 billion smart devices now active in the world.

Chart: Time spent on games, books and videos, by form factor

Click to enlarge image

According to mobile app researcher Flurry, almost 90% of time spent reading books on these devices is done using smartphones.

This finding is doubly surprising. Not only is phone-reading very high in total terms, it’s high when compared to tablet market share. 

I’m sure that most people, like me, would expect that tablet users (which include the iPad and Kindle Fire) would be over-represented in reading books, while smaller-screen smartphone users would be under-represented.

In fact, the opposite is true, according to Flurry’s findings. As these charts show, while tablets account for 18% of overall usage, they only account for 10% of book reading.

Devices and active users by form factor

Click to enlarge image.

Smartphones, on the other hand, deliver 79% of active user sessions but 88% of book reading.

(The missing 2-3% is for the group of devices referred to as ‘Phablets’ — phones with over-sized screens, the best-known example of which is the Samsung Note.)

I think there are probably a couple of key things behind these numbers.

  1. A lot of hard-core ebook readers would do their ‘large-screen’ reading on dedicated ebook readers like the black-and-white Kindles. These devices aren’t tracked by this study, and the hard-core readers they attract do a disproportionate amount of reading.
  2. Flurry tracks users worldwide, so results might better reflect emerging market usage trends,  rather than the skew we see in most research to North America and key developed markets.
  3. Perhaps it shows that more ebook reading than we think is taking place in short bursts on-the-go, in places such as cafes, queues, and commuting — ‘snacking’ to borrow the mobile advertising industry’s latest buzzword.

Whatever the impact these factors are having, the overall picture from this study points to a need for publishers to take their potential smartphone audience more seriously.


Comments (3)

  1. Aaron Pressman

    This data flies in the face of every other survey I’ve ever seen. On Twitter, Mary Ellen Gordon from Flurry said the app shares were created with “app-focused estimates incoprotaing other data sources,” whatever that means. But if you look at Pew, Goodreads, BISG or almost anyone else, tablets are becoming a huge factor in reading ebooks and smartphones are a footnote. See for example:

  2. Martin Taylor (Post author)


    This data flies in the face of every other survey I’ve ever seen.

    I know what you mean, I had a similar reaction. It’s possible that the methodology used by Flurry skews the results in a major way. I’m not familiar enough with their methodology. However, I do think that the three factors I suggested might explain this, especially the global/universal sample they’re apparently using. There are, for instance, (hundreds of) millions of users who would never get into a Pew study whose behaviour will be very different from what we’re used to. A lot of them are in countries which missed the PC revolution and are using their smartphones for things we would do on other devices.

    An example is India: not only is there a big uptake of smartphones, but they’re big ebook downloaders (with probably few e-ink Kindle users), and ebooks have helped to solve another big problem, namely a broken distribution system for printed books.

    All of that said, this survey is certainly something of an outlier as far as books go and I’d like to see more data to try to understand what’s going on here.

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