Monday, November 29, 2010

What were they reading?

by Jane

Whenever I go away and am in a place where people are relaxingon a beach, say, or sitting by a poolI always look at what they are reading. Up until now, I have been curious as to the actual books, fiction or non-fiction and then what titles within those two categories. Is it science fiction, romance, mystery? Is it history, politics, biography or memoir? I can learn something from this kind of research in terms of what people are interested in and I can then use that information in searching out projects to represent.

This past week, my husband and I went to Florida to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and I decided to do another kind of research, although I was virtually certain as to what the result was going to be. I decided that once I got through the body scanner or the pat down in security at the airport, that I was going to walk up and down the aisle of the plane I traveled on to see how people were reading, if they were reading. And I was absolutely sure of what I would find out.

First, much to my surprise the pass through security both going and coming was relatively painless; after all of the warnings over the last week and the threatened slow down at the check points, I was not looking forward to the experience; but as luck would have it, none of what was predicted came to pass, at least as far as we were concerned.

Now, on to the actual research. I went through each of the two planes I took and even perused the waiting areas before boarding and I found that almost everyone who was reading a book was reading an actual book and not using any kind of electronic reader. On the plane going down, I saw nobody with Kindles or Nooks or any other reader, but my husband, who helped me with my research, told me he saw two. There were at least 150 people on the flight down so, two readers certainly was surprisingly few. On the flight back which held as many people, I saw one Nook and one person reading on an iPadeveryone else who was reading a book was reading a hardcover or paperback.

I had truly expected the total opposite. With the enormous increase in the sales of e-readers, and e-books and knowing how easy it is to travel with an e-reader, it just seemed to me a no brainer that these would outnumber print editions. I couldn’t have been more mistaken and I am really surprised.

I wonder, would you have predicted as I did or not? And what, dear reader, do you think I was reading?


  1. That's really interesting! I've seen a decent number of electronic readers on planes (I take mine so I can have lots of books without taking up the space) but the frustrating aspect of traveling with an ereader is not being able to read during take-off and landing which is when I want the distraction the most! I wonder how many people on the planes with physical books picked them up in the airport.

  2. Ebooks are 9% of the market, so around 13/14 out of 150 would have been a more accurate guess. Throw in the price of a Kindle/Nook/iPad and that number would be lower still, so 2 sounds about right.

    I don't own any of these devices yet.

  3. I was also on the lookout during my weekend travels. I noticed very few e-readers, but not as many books as I normally see either. I saw a few reading Patti Smith's memoir (yea!), and of course several "Tattoo" books, as my husband calls them. One woman was about 50 pages into the first "Tattoo" book. A man nudged her arm:

    - How do you like it?
    - It's kinda slow.
    - Yeah. Give it 150 pages, then it gets going.
    - 150 pages!!!


  4. I went on a cruise in August. 2500 passengers. I expected to see dozens of ereaders. What I saw were dozens and dozens (and dozens) of people reading books, but only 2 ereaders (both Kindles). (I ended up talking to one of them, who was kind enough to buy my book right on the spot, which was cool.) Interesting.

  5. I have two untested theories.

    Do you think that people left them at home because of the increased security cautions/hassle?

    Or, do you think maybe ebook sales involve people catching up their electronic libraries-- going a little crazy and buying several books, not all of which they plan to read immediately?

  6. I have to wonder if your research wasn't skewed slightly by the fact it was a holiday weekend. If you were to do the research during the week, which would net you more business travelers, then you might find more ereaders. Lots of people who travel during the holidays don't travel any other time, so they find a book suits them fine and don't have a need for an ereader. I recently did the weekday shuttle flight from Seattle to Portland 4 miserable times (don't ask) and most of the travelers were business people. While I didn't do your research (I should've, I was stuck in Seattle for 7 hours TWICE), I did notice a fair number of people reading what looked like books on their iphones. But mostly people who weren't reading actual books, were just texting or talking on their cells. I have to admit, just for the sheer peace of it, I longed for the day when no one had phones and everyone would've been reading quietly!

  7. I am debating buying an ereader, but I love having my bookshelves overflowing with my old favorites. It just wouldn't be the same if those shelves were empty. I'm glad that "hard copy" books are not on the way out as some predict!

  8. Maybe also because you were flying to Florida? As a generalization, don't younger people tend to be early adopters, hence e-readers, and people tend to retire to Florida so maybe less e-reading? Of course, that may have nothing to do with it. :-)

    I live in Wyoming, and I have no evidence to support it but I would think people in the hinterlands would also be slower to adopt e-reading. One thing is the spotty cell phone/internet connectivity, which across central Wyoming is almost nil (except for the interstate and major towns). Plus we have an older population, with younger people moving out of the state for economic opportunities.

    I may be wrong on both counts, though. Anyone have any state-by-state statistics?

  9. Jane was reading on a Kindle is my prediction by the way. The worst thing about ereaders is it's a lot harder to take a peek at the titles of what strangers are reading in public as compared to dtbs.

    My wife and I bought our first home recently, loaded with built-in bookshelves in my office and in the great room. Would've killed for those book shelves two years ago, but I've already made the switch to digital, so now it's memorabilia being displayed mostly.

  10. Thank you for all of your comments and questions. Here are some of mine:

    I don't think people were reluctant to bring e-readers due to heightened security; most had their phones and many had computers. Many do buy more than one e-book at a time though.

    I was flying to Florida but for Thanksgiving. Most of those on the plane were younger and even they (!) were reading books.Besides, Florida these days is full of young people.

    Indeed I was reading on a kindle and gobbling up CATCHING FIRE which is the second in THE HUNGER GAMES series.

    Still my bookshelves both at home and in the office are chock full of books and they always will be.

  11. I was on three planes yesterday, and learned that they make you turn off your e-readers for take-off and landing, which eliminates the chance I shall ever own one. On the leg from LA to Honolulu I was on a plane so old that it still had ashtrays. The couple next to me were reading the bible (1 Kings 2:33 or thereabouts, for the record). I was reading Shing-Tung Yau and Steve Nadis' _The Shape of Inner Space_.

  12. Did you say you were going to Florida? What was the age group on the plane? You have to factor age into it. If it were Spring break? They wouldn't be reading anything!

  13. I live in Florida, and the weekend before Thanksgiving I was flying to New Orleans via Atlanta. On all legs of the trip, and particularly in the Atlanta airport, I saw plenty of people with eReaders - at least ten on my flight out of Orlando. In fact, it pushed me over the edge toward finally buying one. I don't think Florida and technology are incompatible - in fact, my father's 75 and crazy about his iPad that he bought as an early adopter...


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