Survey results on reading behaviour & willingness to pay for e-books

About the survey

This survey was conducted by iMinds-SMIT, social scientific research center on media and ICT and part of the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). It was ordered within the context of the Publishers of the Future project (a 4 year project fostering innovation in the Flemish book publishing sector) in order to find out more about the attitude of customers towards business models for e-books.

The survey was sent out to 5,000 potential respondents, 1,094 of them answered the survey.


From the 1094 respondents, the following demographic data was extracted. This demographic distribution follows the general Flemish population pyramid, showing a significant group aged 50+, but a majority aged between 15 and 49 years.

15-29 21,69%
30-39 15,66%
40-49 18,07%
50+ 44,58%


Education level (top categories)
Master degree 33,7%
Bachelor/non-univ degree 28,5%


Family situation (top categories)
Married or living together, children 36,5%
Married or living together, no children 29,8%


Net income (top categories)
€ 1.501 – € 2.000 24,3%
€ 2.001 – € 3.000 26,2%


Usage of digital devices

The ownership distribution of digital devices is as follows:

Laptop computer 87,6%
Desktop computer 62,7%
Smartphone 62,0%
Tablet 55,1%
E-reader 20,2%
Smart TV 19,5%


The survey results also showed that slightly more men own tablets (53,1%) whereas slightly more women tend to own e-readers (53,2%).

When asked if the respondent was planning to buy a digital device some time in the future, 68% responded “No”, indicating a maturing & saturating market.

The respondents use their tablets for personal purposes on a daily basis during the week (60%) and in the weekend (71,8%). These devices are intensively used: 30% uses them 1 to 3 hours or more during weekdays, and 43% just as intensively during the weekend.


Reading behaviour

The survey asked respondents a number of questions on their reading behaviour, resulting in the following findings:

  • 63,3% of respondents only read paper books
  • Women appear to be more avid readers: 33% of women read over 20 paper books per year versus 25% for men.
  • The two largest groups were those that read a lot, and those that read very little: 29% reads more than 20 books/years, and 23% reads 1 to 5 books/year.
  • Paper book readers are frequent readers:
    • 38% reads books daily, 24% weekly.
    • 29% reads more than 20 books per year
    • Digital readers are less avid readers
      • 36% of them reads1 to 5 books per year, followed by 22% that reads 6 to 10 digital books per year. A respectable group of 13% of the digital readers reads over 20 books per year.
      • On the device usage:
        • Frequent digital readers tend to use e-readers
        • Less frequent digital readers tend to use tablets


Book acquisition behaviour

On the acquisiton of books we have the following findings:

  • People tend to buy or borrow paper books, for themselves or as a gift
  • A significant group of people (36%) looks for free digital books, either legally or illegally, but a respectable 24% already purchases digital books, even though a lot of titles are not available yet in a digital format.
  • Digital books are seldom borrowed or meant as gifts for others
  • Frequent paper book readers are less inclined to buy a digital version of a book
  • Digital book purchasing does not cause significant cannibalization of paper book sales. Since the introduction of digital books:
    • 5,2% has stopped reading paper books since reading digital (=negligeable canibalisation effect)
    • 38,5% buy less books on paper and more digital books (=significant subtitution effect)
    • 5,4% buy more digital books and more paper books (=small complementarity effect)
  • When asked to choose between the paper and digital version of a book, most respondents still preferred to buy the paper version:
    • 6% would ‘certainly’ buy the digital version if it were available, and 13% ‘mosy certainly’.
    • The majority would ‘probably not’ (28,8%) or ‘certainly’ not (35,7%) consider buying the digital version. Again, these numbers need to be nuanced, considering that not the entire paper catalogue is available yet in a digital format.


Willingness to pay for e-books

  • When asked for which model respondents prefer when acquiring digital books, respondents answered as follows:
    • 34,5% preferred to work with a pay-per-item model (e.g. iBookStore or Amazon Kindle)
    • 16,5% was not prepared to pay for digital books
    • 15% was willing to pay to rent or borrow e-books
    • 11,7% was willing to pay for a subscription model (e.g Spotify)
    • 10,3% was willing to read free digital books that containt advertising
  • Price fork:
    • For a regular e-book (text-only, not enriched) the respondents are willing to pay an amount in the range of € 7 and € 10
    • For an enriched e-book the respondents are willing to pay an amount in the range of € 9 and € 11,5
  • People are willing to pay about 50% of the price of the paper book version of the same book
  • In a bundling offer:
    • People are willing to pay €4,9 on average for a paper book after purchasing the digital version of the book
    • People are still willing to pay € 2,4 on average for a digital book after purchasing the paper version of the book (a luxury other cultural industries can only dream of).
  • Less avid readers are more interested in digital books compared to frequent readers, having a negative impact on digital book sales
  • Preferred technical functionalities:
    • Readability (84%), storage space (77%), e-ink technology (76%) and cost (76%) scored highest as desired features.
    • 73% appreciates a search function in a digital book.
    • Audio (28%) and video (21%) were moderately popular.
    • Games, exercises or integration of social media were considered not important by most respondents (70%).

Related survey from Uni. Mainz

Colleagues from the University of Mainz have conducted a survey investigating the attitude of people towards digital books.

The main findings are that people do not want advertising or commercials in e-books and that e-books should be cheaper than printed books.

It also worth noting that respondents find the integration of multimedia, gaming, 3-D graphics less important.

These independent results confirm the findings of the iMinds survey.

In order of descending importance:

  • No commercials within the e-book (14,5%)
  • Cheaper than the printed edition (14,4%)
  • Switching between the translated and the original version (12,9%)
  • Publishing date not later than the printed edition (10,0%)
  • Resalable and loanable (9,7%)
  • Cost-effective bundle with the printed edition included (8,5%)
  • Corresponding audio book for (temporarily) reading aloud (8,3%)
  • Hyperlinks for additional information about the story (6,5%)
  • Multimedia features (sound, video) (5,2%)
  • Physical packaging for the bookshelf or to give away (3,5%)
  • Interactive codeterminitation of the story (2,8%)
  • Integrated games/puzzles (1,8%)
  • Social media integration with other readers or author (1,2%)
  • 3-D Graphics (1,0%)

For further questions, please contact the researchers Valerie-Anne Bleyen ( or Olivier Braet ( ).

4 thoughts on “Survey results on reading behaviour & willingness to pay for e-books

  1. Pingback: (TISP) Nawyki czytelnicze i skłonność do płacenia za e-booki |

  2. Hi,

    I would like to know when were the surveys conducted? I am researching for a school paper and would refer to this survey if year of survey would be available.

    Thank you so much and God bless.


  3. Pingback: Survey results on reading behaviour & willingness to pay for e-books | ANITEC

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