By Brian Howard | for Book Business

New Study: Is Increased iPad Adoption a Death Knell for Print? Hardly, says Michael Norris of Simba’s new report.

Simba InformationSimba Information’s new report out this week is titled “The iPad and Its Owner 2013.” But given its findings—including that 1 in 5 U.S. adults owns an iPad, along with projections that within five years tablet owners will outnumber print book buyers—it might have been called “The Rise of the Machines.”

The media and publishing market intelligence company has been following trade e-book publishing through its nationally representative surveys since 2009, adding and removing reading devices from its proprietary “device matrix” to track the popularity of different readers as they enter the market.

According to Michael Norris, Senior Analyst at Simba Information’s Trade Books Group, e-book reading has come a long way since 2009 when the company found “the most popular device to read ebooks on was the personal computer.”

Of course, devices like Kindle and Nook (and to a smaller degree, Sony Reader, which Simba seems ready to remove from its matrix) changed the playing field. Echoing other reports, Simba has been noticing for the last 18 months that tablets are gaining on these dedicated e-ink readers as the device of choice among readers of e-books. This presents publishers with new challenges.

“It’s a scaled up version of the challenges publishers have been facing for decades: how to get consumers to value your content,” says Norris. “When you’re talking about a device that allows consumers to bring more popular forms of media with them on the go—people are finding there are so many other things they can do when they’re lying in bed or sitting on a plane—the publisher’s job gets more challenging.”

He adds, “books lost their portability advantage with the tablet.”

But the notion that tablets will simply replace print books isn’t supported by the findings. Simba’s report reveals a lot of interesting consumer behaviors. For instance:

-About half of iPad owners don’t use them to read e-books at all

-iPad owners who do buy e-books spend more on e-books than the average e-book-using adult

-iPad owners who don’t read e-books tend to buy more print books than the general population (though, Norris explains, “that’s a lot less interesting that I made it sound” as iPad owners tend to consume more of everything—books, newspapers, TV, radio—than the general population).

Norris is firm, however, that he does not predict a death knell for print books, ever.

“There are certain things about print that are incredibly valuable to consumers,” says Norris. “I have a book on my shelf at home that is nine decades old. It was published by Popular Mechanics in 1919, I think. It will work when I open it up. Print books are something you can pass on, and give as gifts. That is something where the physical book has had a big strength.”

Norris points to the holiday retail season, and its industry-boosting Q4 spikes, as proof that print’s future is not diminished by the rise of e-book reading. He’s bullish that there are ways for print and digital to work more synergistically, pointing to methods from the world of direct marketing—tracking codes and measuring response—to link revenue back to the point of discovery, and to ameliorate the issue of low-margin bricks-and-mortar retailers subsidizing high-margin e-tailers.

“It would be fantastic,” says Norris, “if print books had something on the spine so you could browse the book store—the way we always do—and when you see a book that you want, you can scan [a code] that asks, ‘Do you want to buy this book as an audio book? As an e-book?’ and you can do it right there. That way the book store actually gets to cash in on some of its value.”

And the value could extend outside of its walls. With that sort of system, “the print book retains its value when it’s brought out into the world. Say you’re standing across the train platform from someone who’s reading a book you’re interested in. You could just scan the spine—not only does the publisher continue to bring in revenue, but so does the physical retailer associated with that book.”

But what does all of this mean for publishing? Simba is already predicting iPad owners outnumbering print book buyers within five years. When asked when he predicts iPad e-book buyers will outnumber print book buyers, Norris suggests that that is addressed in the full report (more at simbainformation.com).

Norris projects that by mid 2013, Simba should have a sense of how the iPad Mini is impacting (or not impacting) our evolving understanding of e-books and device usage.

“The future of reading is a continuous process,” says Norris. “There will always be something new for us to talk about.”