Tablets Are For Men, E-Readers Are For Women? So The Research (And Ads) Say

A recent Fox News article asking, “So are men iPads and women Nooks?” raised my hackles….especially when the piece went on to say, “Nooks are smaller, lighter, and fit in a purse more comfortably…Conversely, iPads are big and heavy and make [the] statement: I’m into tech.” (Come on, are iPads really that heavy?)

But now more research suggests that women go for dedicated e-readers while men choose tablets. A new study of over 26,000 U.S. adults from consumer research firm GfK MRI found that women are 52 percent more likely than men to own an e-reader, and men are 24 percent more likely than women to own a tablet. Why?

What the stats say: “Drilling down to the brand level,” the study’s authors write, “women are 63 percent more likely than men to own an Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Kindle and twice as likely to own a Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) Nook. Men, on the other hand, are 16 percent more likely to own an Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPad. Evidence suggests that men’s affinity for tablets may be a reflection of the way they view ownership of technological gadgets with respect to their peers. For instance, men are much more likely than women to report: ‘I want others to say “Wow!” when they see my electronics.'”

Similarly, Nielsen told me, its March 2011 survey of over 10,000 U.S. adults found that 58 percent of tablet owners are men and 56 percent of e-reader owners are women. And in May, the New York Times reported that sales of women’s magazines were in many cases surpassing sales of those magazines on the iPad: “Some women, at least, seem to prefer their electronic reading devices to be simpler, something they can read on. Tablets with Rock Band, GT Racing and high-res cameras? That’s guy stuff.”

It’s a commonly cited statistic that women read more books than men do–a much-publicized 2007 NPR article said women make up 80 percent of the audience for fiction, as well as reading more than men in general. A 2010 Bowker survey found that women buy three times as many books as men do, and Bowker’s most recent report confirms that women dominate book buying across all genres. And women may see buying an e-reader as a practical purchase if they already read a lot of books anyway, while the iPad–with a hefty price point and glare that make it less than ideal for reading–is seen as a more frivolous purchase.

Use your Nook while you get your hair done: Marketing also plays a part. Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch recently introduced the new Nook Simple Touch Reader by suggesting it was easy enough for a grandmother to use. The Nook videos on B&N’s website are narrated by women, and someone named “Kate” describes the product features. An ad, “I love my Nook Color,” features a female special-ed teacher, a “marketing professional” named Megan who describes the Nook Color as “pretty,” and Rhoda, a “retired teacher and grandma,” who says, “I’m a dinosaur, that’s what my kids call me…but if I can do this, it’s definitely easy.” (One guy, who doesn’t speak in the ad, is thrown in at the end.) One Nook TV ad, “Love of Reading,” shows women using their Nooks while cooking, pregnant, and at the beauty parlor.

Kindle ads show a more even balance of men and women, with the “Kindle Friends” spots showing a guy converting a girl from traditional books to the Kindle and the most recent ad even playing on the idea of how many books can fit in a purse.

iPad ads and videos (for the tablet, not iBooks) skew male and are narrated by men. A video outlining the iPad 2’s specs features four male Apple employees describing the iPad’s features. (Two of them have shaved heads and are wearing long-sleeved black T-shirts.) Video game footage is used to display the performance of the dual-core A5 chip. Girls in bikinis appear at two separate times. A woman appears also appears in the video, first as a mom with her daughter in a long Facetime-with-grandparents scene, and then as a teacher. And when Facetime appears in these videos–here and here and here–the footage is literally from the perspective of a guy holding the iPad and talking to a girl (she’s in the foreground, he’s in the background). However, the iPad ads are on the whole more gender-balanced than the Nook ads.

Here’s a slideshow of e-reader marketing shots:

Considering the ways that these devices are marketed, it’s heartening that GfK finds that nearly half of e-reader owners are male–and women are just 16 percent less likely to own an iPad.

More reading all around: The GfK MRI study also turned up good news for reading in general. It found that tablet users are 66 percent more likely to be “heavy users of printed versions of magazines” than the average U.S. adult, and e-reader owners are 24 percent more likely to be heavy magazine users. Tablet and e-reader owners are, respectively, 54 percent and 63 percent more likely than the average adult to be heavy newspaper readers.

Finally, as we noted last week, a new Pew report shows e-reader ownership surging ahead of tablets–so you’re probably going to see a lot more men and women using e-readers.

And one last thought: At 1.3 pounds, the iPad is just a couple ounces heavier than the 15.8-ounce Nook Color. While either might weigh down a purse, both should fit comfortably in a tote bag.

Full results of the GfK MRI survey here.