The Pew Research Center published a report last week on the reading habits of Americans that showed continuity in both print and digital trends over the past several years. The headline finding is that tablets and phones are growing in popularity as platforms for reading, but digital in general still lags far behind print editions in terms of overall uptake.

Pew does not segment its findings between prose and graphic literature, so it’s hard to interpret what this means for the comics and graphic novel space in particular, but it’s worth noting a few items.

  • Digital book adoption has stabilized at about 28%. In the years between 2011 and 2014, the Pew Study showed that the percentage of U.S. adults who said they have read an e-book over the past 12 months grew from 17% to 28%, but since that time, it has held steady. That’s consistent with ICv2/Comichron data that reported a massive increase in the digital comics market during the same 2011-2014 timeframe and flat or mildly declining revenue since then (see “Digital Comic Sales Declined in 2015”).
  • A plurality of readers still prefers print. Of the 74% of respondents in the Pew Survey who read books at all, 38% read print books exclusively, and an additional 28% read both print and digital books. Only 6% report reading digital books exclusively.
  • Tablets and phones have overtaken dedicated ebook readers as the platform of choice. Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of respondents who read books on tablet computers nearly quadrupled, from 4% to 15%, and the number reading on mobile phones nearly tripled, from 5% to 13%. Meanwhile the share for ebook readers like the Slate Kindle and B&N Nook barely inched up, from 7% to 8%.

Implications for Comics? The persistent popularity of print for most readers is likely good news for retailers concerned that digital distribution directly cannibalizes the audience for printed comics and graphic novels. Even among the 28% of readers who consume e-books at all, very few (6%) prefer that format exclusively.

The shift to tablets and phones also looks like a positive development for publishers and creators trying to reach the digital audience. The premier dedicated ebook reader, Amazon’s Kindle PaperWhite, is text-only and doesn’t display comics; for that, you need a color Kindle Fire, which is essentially a cheap, heavily branded Android device. Meanwhile tablets and larger format phones/phablets (sorry…), plus notebook computers with detachable displays, offer a much better reading experience for graphic literature.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to delve much deeper than that or identify correlations between Pew’s topline data and more industry-specific metrics because the leading digital comics distribution platform, comiXology, has not made market data available since its 2014 acquisition by Amazon, and publisher data remains scarce. It’s possible that distribution platforms like Humble Bundle and new subscription-based comics services like comiXolgy Unlimited, Marvel Unlimited and Comic Blitz have increased the volume of digital copies being distributed (and thus readership) without adding much to revenue, but that is very hard to measure.

Young people read more. One of the more optimistic findings in the Pew data is that young adults are somewhat more likely to have read a book in the past year than their elders. 80% of 18-29 year-old respondents cracked the cover of a book in 2015, compared to 67% of those 65 and older. Young readers were also more likely to have read books in digital formats, but also more likely to have read a book in print. The Pew data does not include a demographic bracket for those younger than 18, which would be a useful indicator for growth in the kids and YA audiences that has shown up in market sales data over the past few years.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of

Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.