E-Readers Blast into Older Adult Space

E-reading is on the rise with older adults. A Pew Internet report released in early April, 2012, showed older adults are embracing e-reading. Twenty three percent of adults 50 to 64 and 17 per cent of 65+ adults read an e-book in the past twelve months.

Jim Barry, Media Spokesman, for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) feels the Pew Internet stats are right on target. “They are not surprising and the trend will grow,” said Barry. “E-readers are a great benefit for older adults who like to travel and read a lot.”


Tablets versus e-readers for older adults

Barry perceives several advantages of e-readers for older adults over tablets – IPad, Galaxy Tab, or Motorola Xoom. E-readers’ e-ink and e-paper mimic print on page. E-readers have a better battery life than tablets, are easier to read in sunlight and are better priced. Also, their print size can be adjusted.

According to Barry, the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) of tablets causes more reflection and may result in reading problems for older readers. As well, they are more expensive. He confirmed Pew Internet’s findings; e-readers are preferred by older people and will be a growing demographic.

E-readers are easier to use than tablets, are highly portable, and are available cross-country in libraries with staff instruction. For people who read only books and newspapers, e-readers are the best choice.

Retirement is accompanied by the inevitability of moving, Barry noted. De-cluttering is exhausting and books constitute a big part of the process. E-readers don’t need to be packed up and moved.

Jerry Severns, Marketing Manager of It's Never 2 Late, a creative Denver firm specializing in assistive technology for aging adults, believes the growth of e-readers will mirror the development in the public realm. "A large portion of 65+ will move there," said Severns. "Baby Boomers will advance as they have with other technology, like laptops, smartphones."

Daniel Ger, Vice President of Retirement Life Communities, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, remarked that retirement communities exhibit a clear trend towards transforming technology. “Many residents have swapped paper books for Kindle readers and are instantly downloading best sellers to read and discuss at book clubs. Kindles offer easy, light, and portable access to any book. With eight selectable text sizes, they present a customizable experience for relaxed reading to seniors."

Fifty Plus adults have become a large market for e-readers and the Sixty Plus demographic is growing. They are switching over to e-readers in favor of paper books. In the United States, older people dominate the discretionary purchase market. E-readers, especially The Kindles, are being acquired by mature and upper class consumers.

E-readers offer an excellent opportunity for older adults to get started operating new technology. “With a little practice, seniors can understand high-tech,” states Chris Bint, Executive Director of the Elder Technology Assistance Group (ETAG), near Toronto, Ontario. At ETAG, e-books are accessible and inexpensive, evolving into personal libraries for seniors. Older adults look to ETAG for assistance for loading up and customizing e-books. They learn to integrate with libraries – a cost-cutter and stress eliminator – no renewals of overdue fines. Basic questions to ETAG from seniors about e-readers include: setting up an account with a credit card, making purchases, customization and basic workings.

Bint outlined an innovative advantage of e-books for seniors. Older couples can share and read identical books on separate devices with a single purchase on a joint account. The process can be valuable in a situation where readers need to access special fonts on separate readers.

The ETAG Executive Director notes that the limited functionality of e-readers can be an advantage for older adults. Electronic readers focus on a few functions compared to tablets that can encompass many hundreds of operations and apps. “The benefit of e-readers is accessibility,” said Bint. “There are a limited number of controls to learn. Options, like font size, are more focused for e-readers than tablets.”

An e-reader’s advantage is the zoom function, its ability to display only a few words on a page. Generally, tablets do not have this feature. Bint echoed Barry’s statement on the battery life of e-readers. With limited processing, the e-reader's battery life is up to 4 times better than the tablet’s back-lit screen and other functions.

In line with Barry’s statement on the tablet’s LCD display, Bint said the glass finish emanates more reflection. “The e-readers’ matte finish is superior for outside reading, “Bint said. “Reading in the park would be difficult for tablets because of reflection, but fine for e-readers.” The limited functionality of e-readers is part of the appeal of e-readers for older adults. “They focus on doing one thing well.”


The Pew Internet Study issued general trends about books versus e-books.

Books are still far-and-away preferable for reading to a child. Books have a significant lead for sharing with other people. The tendency between the two is almost even for reading in bed. E-books start to pull away for offering a selection of books to choose from. E-books lead by more than three times for traveling/commuting. E-books outrank books by four times for ability to get a book quickly.

Demographic Findings

The report found that older adults significantly follow current events compared to younger people. But those ages 18-29 are more likely to read for research purposes. Oldest readers are the most avid book consumers. Adults 50 to 64 responded that they have read 18 books in 2011; adults 65+ had read 23 books. Kindles are the most popular type of e-reading device and are owned by 62% of respondents. Another 22% own a Nook, making it the second most popular type. In addition, a large number of consumers read content on a cell phone.


E-readers and e-books have found a niche market with Baby Boomers and Older Adults. Their market price is lower than tablets. E-readers are easier to navigate and effortlessly fulfill a specific function devoid of manifold apps. The simplicity of e-ink and e-paper mimic print on page without tablet glare. E-readers and e-books have established a foothold within retirement residences, senior centers and libraries. According to The Pew Internet Study, their presence in the Baby Boomer and senior demographic will grow.

Graphics sourced from Pew Internet: The Rise of e-reading - Released April 4, 2012.