April 5, 2012, 11:32 AM

A fifth of U.S. consumers have read e-books

And those digital converts read more overall, a new Pew study finds.

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Just more than a fifth of U.S. adults, 21%, said in February that they had read an e-book within the past year, up from 17% who said the same in December, according to a  report issued today by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

And the spread of electronic reading devices apparently has inspired readers to read even more books, Pew says. What the center calls the “average reader of e-books” read 24 books within the past year, compared with 15 books for readers who remain completely loyal to print.

“It’s now clear that readers are embracing a new format for books and a significant number are reading more because books can be plucked out of the air,” says Lee Rainie, one of the authors of the Pew report.

Pew based its findings on a variety of surveys that covered different aspects of e-books, reading and device use: A survey of 2,986 consumers aged 16 and older conducted between Nov. 16 and Dec. 21, 2011; a survey of 2,008 consumers aged 18 and older conducted in January; and a survey of 2,253 consumers aged 18 and older conducted between Jan. 20 and Feb. 19.

The report also looked at the reading habits of e-book readers by device and found that:

• 42% said they read e-books on computers

• 41% read e-books on e-books reader such as Kindles or Nooks

• 29% read e-books on mobile phones

• 23% read e-books on tablet computers

The totals add up to more than 100% because many respondents read books on multiple devices.

But print is far from dead for even e-book readers, Pew found. 88% of respondents who read an e-book within the past year also read printed books; overall, the report continues, 72% of respondents have read print books, 21% have read e-books and 11% have listened to audio books.

“As a rule, dual-platform readers preferred e-books when they wanted to get a book quickly, when they were traveling or commuting, and when they were looking for a wide selection,” the report says. “However, print was strongly preferred when it came to reading to children and sharing books with others.”

Digital reading, though, has a strong claim to consumers’ bedrooms: 45% of consumers prefer reading e-books in bed, compared with 43% who prefer print. (Pew did not say what the remaining 12% preferred.)

Other findings from the Pew report include:

• 23% of consumers who have read e-books or other long-form content on digital devices (that includes lengthy magazine articles) say that have had difficulty in finding the content they desire.

• 81% of owners of e-reading devices are more likely than other consumers (64%) to seek book recommendations from friends and relatives, and also from bookstore staff (31% vs. 23%).

• For those consumers without tablets or other e-reading devices, the main reasons they do not own such machines are: lack of need or desire; cost; owning enough computers already; and a preference for printed books.

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