Tablets and other digital reading devices are expected to be big sellers this holiday season due in part to the growing number of devices available from a host of manufacturers (Tale of the Tablets: 2012). But as the number of devices swell, the places where consumers go to buy e-books and other digital content continues to be concentrated in some familiar spots, at least up until now.

According to the Book Industry Study Group’s fourth volume in its “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” survey series, 73% of e-book buyers bought (or got an e-book for free) from Amazon, with 21% getting their e-books from Barnes & Both of those company’s apps have also gained some traction. Despite problems getting titles from some of the major trade houses, libraries were used by 11% of e-book readers to attain e-books. Apple’s content stores were only used by 10% of e-book users, but that is expected to change as device sales pick up.

But growth in the use of multipurpose tablets rather than dedicated e-ink devices shows acceptance of platforms outside the five best-known tablet platforms of Amazon (Kindle Fire), Apple (iPad, iPad Mini), B&N (Nook HD), Google (Nexus 7, Nexus 10), and Kobo (Kobo Arc). Indeed, beyond the most popular brands, manufacturers from Toshiba, Asus, Acer, and Samsung to Lenovo, Dell, HP, and Fujitsu are releasing a dizzying selection of tablets running the Windows 8 and Android operating systems (Amazon’s Kindle and the Nook HD run a customized Android OS). And while a consumer can purchase e-books on any of them, the lack of a branded, heavily marketed content app tied to the device looks to be a disadvantage in a competitive e-book marketplace that is, nevertheless, dominated by two well-known e-book and platform brands.

According to the BISG’s consumer reading survey, “power buyers” (those who purchase e-books weekly) show an increased preference for reading on tablets, with more than 38% indicating so, compared to 19% a year ago. The BISG study also suggests that tablets designed for reading books—like the Kindle Fire, Nook HD, or Kobo Arc—outperform other tablets. Nearly 60% of the BISG survey respondents that own Kindle Fires say they read e-books “very often,” while about 50% of those with iPads make that claim. Indeed, after and B&N, the rest of the market is a far-flung network of indie e-book retailers that include the iBookstore, Kobo, Google Play, Baen, Sony e-book store, Books on Board, Diesel e-bookstore, Powell’s, AllRomanceeBooks, and many more than can be listed here.

While Amazon and B&N offer reading/retail apps in Windows 8 and Android versions—Blio, the Baker & Taylor–sponsored multimedia optimized reading/retail app, has been adding e-bookstore links to devices from Toshiba, Windows, HP, and others—there seems to be evidence that consumers are venturing beyond branded apps to find alternative retail venues in a new and expanding marketplace. And as new tablets gain market share, that trend could continue. Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, noted that while “the Kindle store has dominant share, early indications on open platform tablets like Galaxy Tab, Nexus, and Windows show a more competitive e-book seller market.” The Kindle Store, for example, accounted for 46% of the e-book purchases of Galaxy users compared to 83% of Fire owners, while “other” outlets represented 19% of e-book purchases of Galaxy owners compared to 5% for Fire owners. And according to several independent e-book retailers contacted by PW, while the use of tablet devices designed to deliver content from Amazon, Apple, Google, and B&N is growing, the indie e-book retail business also continues to grow. It’s early, but it looks as though the e-book pie is getting bigger as consumers gravitate to multipurpose devices to buy from the dominant retailers as well as seek out certain independent e-book retailers.

Diesel e-book founder Scott Redford said 50% of the respondents to a Diesel survey reported that they use dedicated e-readers, 20% use a personal computer, and 16% use tablets, but the tablet component is growing. “As tablet prices drop, we’re seeing an overall, corresponding increase in tablet use compared to e-readers for our e-books,” he said. “Not only is the multifunctionality a draw, we’re hearing that tablets tend to give customers a little more freedom in where they make their purchases.” Redford said Diesel’s business continues to show “steady growth,” emphasizing that “customers are getting savvier about their options once they invest in a device.” He even cited Amazon’s recent and controversial history of remotely removing titles from customer accounts. “The issue of being tethered to one e-book store is an increasing consideration,” Redford said.

Lori James, founder of, agreed that tablet use is increasing, providing PW data showing the use of multipurpose tablets (iPad, Android, and “other”) by her customers growing from about 17% to a little more than 20% over the past year. “We have an extremely loyal customer base,” James said. “Increased tablet and dedicated reader sales have been beneficial for us. We aren’t tied to any specific platform. We sell digital books that are available in multiple formats and are compatible on multiple devices.”

Bob LiVolsi, owner of the indie e-book retail site BooksOnBoard, offered data showing the use of tablets by BooksOnBoard customers “grew from 7.9% of downloads in October 2011 to 21.2% of downloads in October 2012,” while the use of dedicated e-readers declined from 30.2% to 28.1% over the last year. Use of PCs and Macs (41.4% in 2011) declined to 37.4% so far this year. LiVolsi said the iPad is the leading tablet used on Books-OnBoard, representing 63% of all tablet downloads, but “Android tablets are growing share rapidly. A year ago, iPad completely dominated this, with 93% of tablet downloads.”

LiVolsi said despite Amazon and B&N’s “walled gardens,” he’s noticed “customers downloading our books to the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets,” and while they represent “less than 5% of our downloads, that number is growing a bit quarter by quarter as customers discover they have other options on the tablets.” LiVolsi also pointed to a “migration of about 34% of our readers over the last 18 months” to sub-$100 Nooks and Kindles that don’t support content from other retailers. But, LiVolsi told PW, “in spite of that, [BooksOnBoard] revenues have continued to grow, largely because of the shift to tablets and the growing e-book marketplace” as well as to the growing demand for English-language digital content outside of the U.S. “Our customer mix is probably still a little different than Amazon’s or B&N’s,” he said. “We’re 64% non-U.S. and our customers are probably more price sensitive overall as we compete these days largely on our customer support, our pricing, and long-term relationships with customers who bought their first e-book from us.”

Editor’s Note: Figures in BISG’s “Consumer Attitudes” report are based on responses from 1,061 consumers surveyed in August. The full report is available here.

Top Sources for Acquiring E-books 73%
Barnes & 21
Kindle App 13
Library or library Web site 11
iBooks/iTunes (Apple) 10
Nook App 4.5