Growth in E-book Readers Offers Ripe Opportunity for PR Pros

The New York Times' recent interactive story on an avalanche in Washington State drew nearly three million visits

Among the many emerging technologies that PR pros are now using to enhance their communications efforts, e-books may hold the best opportunity.

In the past year, the number of people who read e-books rose from 16% of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23%, according to a new report released by The Pew Research Center.

At the same time, the number of those who read printed books in the previous 12 months fell from 72% of the population ages 16 and older to 67%.

The study, which is based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,252 people ages 16 and older living in the U.S., is another indication of the ongoing pivot among consumers from print products to digital media.

Indeed, the growing popularity of e-book reading coincides with an increase in ownership of electronic book reading devices.

In all, the number of owners of either a tablet computer or e-book reading device, such as a Kindle or Nook, grew from 18% in late 2011, to 33% in late 2012, the study said. As of November 2012, roughly 25% of Americans ages 16 and older own tablet computers, such as iPads or Kindle Fires, up from 10% who owned tablets in late 2011.

In addition to e-books, “e-singles,” or bite-sized e-books that are anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 words, are also picking up speed as a communications vehicle.

Whether it’s e-books or e-singles, each medium presents communications execs with a unique way to tell their stories sans the (often) heavy expenses of print production.

A wonderful (and recent) example of new forms of storytelling in the digital space is “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” The interactive feature, which ran in The New York Times last week, tells the harrowing story of skiers caught in an avalanche. It features text, photography, online video, slide shows, maps and graphics.

While many PR shops don’t carry the budgets of the Times, the feature could serve as a guide for PR pros on how to create a compelling story online and wed various digital assets into the same document.

The numbers, of course, help tell the story. According to a memo by New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson that was obtained by, “Snow Fall,” garnered 2.9 million visits, 3.5 million page views, and was shared by more than 10,000 users on Twitter. 

More than 250,000 visits were from new Times users—another indication of how beautifully written and carefully designed stories online, combined with online sharing, can pack a serious wallop for brands.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1