If you ride the metro in any city of the country, you will see fellow commuters reading books: some are reading printed books, others are using an e-reader, some are reading on a tablet, others are reading on a smartphone, and so on.

One thing is quite surprising. It is hard to notice a clear trend in readers’ preferences. A lot of millennials and even younger people keep reading physical books, and many older people read not just printed books, but also e-books on an array of digital devices.


Reinier Gerritsen photographs readers on the subway in his series, The Last Book (Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York).

This anecdotal data has been confirmed by a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,520 American adults conducted March 7-April 4, 2016. According to the report: “while print remains at the center of the book-reading landscape as a whole, there has been a distinct shift in the e-book landscape over the last five years. Americans increasingly turn to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet computersrather than dedicated e-readerswhen they engage with e-book content.”

The share of e-book readers on tablets has more than tripled since 2011 and the number of readers on phones has more than doubled over that time, said Pew, adding that smartphones are playing an especially prominent role in the e-reading habits of certain demographic groups, such as Hispanics,* the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority living in the country.

The group of Hispanics are more likely to read books on cellphones than on e-readers or traditional computers, said the Pew report. Why is this happening? Has always been like that?

As we tried to answer those questions, we found some interesting data reported by different sources on two key drivers of digital reading among Hispanics.


First, the digital divide has narrowed since 2009, said Pew Research center last July. Big gains in internet use made by immigrant Hispanics and Spanish-dominant Hispanics, have been the main factor in closing this gap. “While Latinos have lagged other groups in accessing the internet and having broadband at home, they have been among the most likely to own a smartphone, to live in a household without a landline phone where only a cellphone is available and to access the internet from a mobile device,” explained the nonprofit research organization. For example, among Latino adults, 80%** access the internet from a mobile device, an important 13% of Latinos are smartphone dependent, and those with limited English are significantly more likely to use a cellphone for book consumption (e.g., audiobooks).

Another factor is the growth of the Spanish e-book market due to a combination of more publishers offering increasing amounts of titles in this format, and to more devices being purchased by Hispanics, said Publishers Weekly. To meet this growing demand, Amazon’s eBooks Kindle en Español store currently offers over 70,000 books in Spanish—more than double the number of titles that were available when the store launched in April 2012. Also, around 65% of the top 100 books in Spanish offered in the online store are e-books.


From a holistic mobile perspective, Hispanics have become Super Consumers, according to Nielsen. “Their high usage and engagement with mobile devices cross-functionally provides an interesting opportunity for those in the mobile space. With a population that will account for more than half of the population growth in the US by 2020 and nearly 85% of growth by 2060, their current $1.4 trillion spending power will grow even larger.”

It seems that it’s time to see how publishers take advantage of this “mobile dependency”, and find innovative ways to attract this huge segment of the population that it is so “plugged in.”

*As of July 1, 2015 people of Hispanic origin constituted 17.6% (56.6 million) of the nation’s total population, according to the US Census Bureau.

**2015 National Survey of Latinos by Pew Research Center.

By Maria Swann


Pew Research Center:


Publishers Weekly:

Publishing Perspectives: