Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reading in the Digital Age

A recent presentation posted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project has some interesting slides on ways that ebooks and readers are having on book reading.  E-reader capabilities have dramatically improved in the last few years, as prices have fallen, and the e-book market once dominated  by Amazon is facing increased competition from Apple's iBooks and Google Play.  And major publishers have expanded their ebook offerings.  Ebook adoption exploded in each of the last two holiday seasons through gift-giving and purchasing, and seems poised for another big jump this year.

One of the interesting aspects of ebooks is that adoption and use hasn't been dominated by young males.  Ebook reading in the U.S., at least, is fairly widespread, with a small peak in the 30-49 age group.  Where age does matter is with regard to which devices are used for reading ebooks. Those under 30 are much heavier users of smartphones, laptops, and desktops for reading (mobile phones 41% v. 25%; PCs 55% v. 38%), while those 30 or older are heavier users of Ereaders (46% v. 23%) and tablets (26% v. 16%).

As we're also starting to see with online video usage across devices, people are starting to develop preferred practices.  People overwhelmingly prefer reading print books when sharing (81% feel printed books are best when reading to a child),  Ebook advantages seem to be tied to practicality: 83% prefer ebooks for getting books quickly; 73% prefer ebooks for reading while traveling; and 53% note the wide selection available.  (I'll personally attest to the advantage of ereaders and ebooks when engaged in lengthy travels and semesters abroad).
Previous studies have also shown that ebook adoption and use is highest among heavy readers, and particularly among genre-fiction readers.  (I ran a used paperback store for a while, and our best customers would show up weekly with a grocery bag of genre fiction, and leave with another (romance, mystery, science fiction were top genres).

Another Pew study found that leading-edge librarians report that the rise of ebooks has induced a major shift in book searching and borrowing at their libraries.  Avid readers are using branch libraries less, shifting their borrowing to downloads from the main library website.  Browsing and searching for titles has similarly shifted from catalogs to websites.  Many of the librarians report that they're excited about the role ebooks are playing for their patrons, and for the future of reading and libraries.  On the other hand, ebooks have joined other media in competing for limited acquisition funds.  They're also finding that librarians find themselves providing "tech support" more than traditional reference services.

The Book Industry Research Group has released findings from its recent study of the impact of ebooks.  The key result is the conclusion that ebooks are now considered a normal means of consuming written content, accounting for roughly 30% of the market.  Some of the results suggest continuing industry transformations, however.
  The study found that readers don't differentiate between traditional big publishing houses and self-publishing alternatives when purchasing books. Content, author reputation, and user reviews on ebook sales sites is replacing the gatekeeping and brand functions that book publishers have relied on.  This could create problems for traditional publishers who can't adapt to a shifting market.  A number of small publishers have gone under as their authors discover that self-publishing can be much more rewarding to authors than traditional contract splits.  Others, such as HarperCollins, are experimenting with direct sales models for prominent authors' lists (and saving themselves the retailers' cut).
  The BISG study also found considerable and continuing interest in print books as well.  Almost a third of their sample indicated that they purchase print and ebooks interchangeably.  Consumers also expressed strong interest in bundling print and digital versions of books, and almost half indicated a willingness to pay a bit more for the bundle.  (Amazon's starting an experimental program offering access to ebook versions of books purchased through their site).  They also found that more than half of their sample expressed a willingness to pay more for ebooks with traditional print attributes of being able to resell or give away the digital versions.

All told, it seems that like digital audio and digital video, digital books have become a permanent part of the market for content.  The distinctive attributes of digital are transforming how consumers access, purchase, and use content.  The fact that digital distribution offers significant cost reductions, and opens up new ways of marketing content, are having their impact on traditional content industries as well.  The good news for traditional formats is that consumers see the advantage in all of the various form factors, and if traditional outlets can adapt their traditional models to become competitive with the new, they're likely to find ways to survive and possibly even thrive.

Sources -  Reading, writing, and research in the digital age,  research presentation, Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Libraries, patrons, and e-books,  Pew Internet & American Life Project research report
Study: E-books Settle In,  Publishers Weekly
Ebooks and discounts drive 98 publishers out of business,  The Guardian

No comments:

Post a Comment