MINNEAPOLIS - Judy Ellis, 67, got her first cell phone two years ago. So it's fair to say that like many in her generation, the Minneapolis resident has not been an early adopter of new technology. Then Amazon's Kindle came along.
"It's just so easy to use," she said, "and the adjustable font size makes a big difference in how quickly you can read."
But don't typecast this as a one-note phenomenon. For Ellis and many of her peers, larger type size is just one reason they have embraced e-readers, the increasingly popular mobile devices for reading electronic versions of books, newspapers, and magazines.
Portability, accessibility, affordability, readability (beyond font size), and availability of thousands of titles have made Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Sony Reader, and other e-readers enormously appealing to seniors and baby boomers.
"It should be a very good holiday for e-readers and tablets," said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for the New York-based consumer-research company the NPD Group. "And relative to many other device categories, the early adopters have tended to skew older."
While demographic breakdowns are not available, there's little doubt that a mature audience has helped drive sales of e-readers. An estimated 6.4 million units will be sold this year, compared with 580,000 in 2008, said Steve Kidera, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association. E-book sales rose 177 percent last year, according to the Association of American Publishers, and about 350 percent in the first four months of this year.
Some older readers have found a lot to like with the new technology.
"The background is so easy on the eyes," said Minneapolis poet Phebe Hanson, 82, who has limited vision in one eye and none in the other. "I can read it for longer than I can a computer."
Marie Behrens, 61, of Hudson, Wis., loves having access to her e-reader's dictionary, "something I'm using for the first time in my life."
And don't discount the green factors, financial and environmental. On the cost side, many older books are in the public domain and thus are usually free as e-books, and the prices of the devices have plummeted with competition. And eco-minded readers can avoid the clutter of physical books, feel good about saving paper, and avoid trips to the bookstore.
An October poll of 3,000 U.S. book buyers by the trend-tracking company Bowker found that people over 55 were more likely to find "high benefit" in these e-reader factors: font size (61 percent vs. 45 percent for those under 55), portability (87 to 70 percent), and instant access to books (77 to 66 percent). That helps explain why 66 percent of those over 55 purchased an e-book last month, compared with 5.2 percent of those under 55.
Have baby boomers and seniors caught up with technology, or have electronic devices, especially tabletlike e-readers, caught up with older consumers?
Yes, and yes.
The NPD Group's Rubin said, "Seniors and especially women love books."
The timing also was good for seniors, said Kidera of the Consumer Electronics Association.
"The older generation has been around technology for 15 years now and have become more familiar and comfortable with electronic devices like cell phones, iPads, or whatever," he said. "It may take them a while to get to know the technology, but once they do, they're embracing it."