World Catching Up to U.S. in E-Book Buying Habits, Study Says

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By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

The world has caught up with the U.S. when it comes to e-book buying and overall engagement with digital books, according to a new study.

While the U.S. remains the largest e-book market, many readers in countries like Australia, Brazil and India have purchased e-books and intend to buy more in the future, according to R.R. Bowker’s Global eBook Monitor study.

“The world is ready for digital books and it’s a far bigger marketplace than we thought,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at Bowker.

In late January and early February, Bowker fielded a 25-question online survey among 1,000 to 2,000 people in each of ten countries – Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the UK and the U.S. – asking them about their reading and book-buying habits.

Australia, India, the UK and the U.S. led the world in e-book adoption rates but Brazil and India may represent the best opportunities for publishers to sell e-books in the future.

Of survey respondents who indicated that they had never downloaded and purchased an e-book, only 16% of Brazilians and 11% of Indians said they would not try one.

Compare that with 66% of French and 72% of Japanese people who said they had not tried e-books and did not want to try them.

Cultural reasons for not wanting to transition to e-books could be the culprit in places like France and Japan, where the technology for e-reading is widespread, but the adoption is low and attitudes toward e-reading are relatively negative.

“There’s lots of technology – even indigenous readers – but when we look at the overall resistance for the people that haven’t gotten access to an e-book, it’s not because they’re not aware of it,” said Gallagher.

Overall adoption rates in France and Japan are among the lowest in the world. Some 8% of Japanese people have downloaded and paid for an e-book and only 5% of the French have. In the U.S., 20% of survey respondents have done so. Nowhere have more people bought and downloaded e-books than in India, where 24% of people have tried at least one – and nowhere may offer better potential for publishers looking to expand their e-book business abroad. (See chart below.)

Indians are eager to buy e-books, according to Gallagher. For the purposes of the study, only Indians with Internet connections were surveyed, leaving out a large part of the population from consideration – mostly those living in rural areas without electricity. Still, because of the sheer size of the Indian population, the opportunity for e-book sales is big.

“If you look at India, their purchases could dwarf some of these countries that have a smaller population, even if they [the smaller countries] have higher penetration” said Gallagher.

Surveys were largely done in indigenous languages, but many of those surveyed expressed a desire to read e-books in English, said Gallagher, adding that digital books could accelerate the adoption of English-language books in some of these countries.

“Publishers should look for where the opportunities are and specifically what they need to be focusing on within these countries,” said Gallagher. “Some of the markets are going to be opening up quickly. What are they [the readers in those markets] most interested in?”

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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