By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
As tablet sales surge and put downward pressure on dedicated e-reader ownership growth, publishers are pessimistic that tablets will provide readers with an enticing reading platform.
According to a recent Digital Book World survey, conducted by Forrester Research, 31% of publishers think iPads and other tablets computers are the ideal e-book reading platform, down from 46% a year ago. Only 30% of publishers think reading tablets like the Nook Color and Kindle Fire are an ideal reading platform. This question was not asked in the previous year’s survey.
In late 2011, book publishers representing 74% of U.S. publishing revenues were surveyed on a wide range of topics concerning digital books. The same survey was conducted in 2010.
“The devices [tablet computers] are capable of so many more distracting things,” said James L. McQuivey, Ph.D., vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, who conducted the survey. “If you have an iPad and 15 minutes to kill, are you going to do something more cognitively difficult like reading, or something brain-dead simple like going on Facebook or watching a YouTube video?”
Still, crossover devices like the Kindle Fire – not quite a full-sized tablet like the iPad, but with functionality far beyond that of an e-ink reader – may be a boon to publishers. Kindle Fire owners read e-books on the device more than any other activity. A recent survey of 216 Kindle Fire owners by RBC Financial Group found that 71% list reading e-books as one of the two activities they do the most on the device. “Brose the Web” came in distant second at 39%.
These data about crossover devices contrast greatly with data about the iPad – only 53% of iPad users read books at all on the device, according to a September 2011 survey by Forrester.
Publishers should continue to monitor the space closely. Tablet and e-reader ownership doubled in the U.S. over the holiday period, according to new research from the Pew Internet Project, a Pew Center project dedicated to providing research on how the Internet affects life in America. Nearly one fifth of all Americans now own a tablet computer or an e-reader, according to Pew.
Despite all of the positive energy around device ownership growth and device usage, publishers may have been shocked to find out that e-book purchasing growth may be slowing. According to data presented by the Book Industry Study Group and Bowker at the Digital Book World Conference last week, there was only 17% growth in the number of print-book buyers who also purchased an e-book; this was markedly less than the 25% to 30% growth people had reportedly hoped for.
But if people who buy devices still read books – in some cases, this is much of what they do – and device ownership is growing quickly, posited publishing consultant Don Linn, then why is e-book sales growth sagging?
The question has publishers confused. How should they proceed in a device market that is getting more complex?
“They’re just not sure what to make of it yet and they’re not committed business-wise,” said Forrester’s McQuivey. “That’s an issue for 2012: What do you do as a business when you’re not sure how it’s going to net out between these three categories of devices?”
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