Pew Research: Bookworms Going Increasingly Digital

Digital bookworms
Pew finds more readership of e-books, mirroring the healthy increase in tablet computer, smartphone and e-reader sales.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey of American adults (ages 16 and older), ownership of a tablet computer or an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook has grown substantially in the past year.

According to Pew’s year-over-year findings, ownership grew from ~18% in late 2011 to ~33% by late 2012.

[For those who are counting, tablet ownership increased from ~10% to ~25% of adults, while e-reader ownership rose a little slower, from a similar 10% level to about 19%.]

Based on these findings from Pew, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that e-book readership is also on the rise.

Other results in the Pew survey confirm this: The percent of U.S. adults who read an e-book within the past year is now ~23%, up from ~16% a year earlier.

Conversely, the proportion of printed book readers is declining; Pew finds that ~67% of adults read at least one printed book during the year, which is a drop from ~75% in late 2012 and ~78% in late 2011.

Who are most likely to be reading e-books? According to Pew, they’re the “usual suspects”: better-educated (college or greater); higher-income ($75,000+ annual household income); and folks who are in the 30-49 age range.

No significant differences were discerned in gender or racial segments, although the incidence of e-book readership skews somewhat higher among urban/suburban dwellers compared to those living in rural areas.

And there’s one other type of book platform with some degree of popularity among U.S. adults: ~13% of respondents reported that they had listened to at least one audio book over the course of the year.

Now to a fundamental question: Are we a nation of readers?

The answer to that question depends on your point of view, of course. Some people devour books all the time, while others will do anything they can to avoid reading a single one.

The Pew survey found that book readers tackled an average of 15 books across all “platforms” during the course of the year.

But the median number of books read was just six, leading one to conclude that some people are really, really voracious readers, and they drive the average much higher than the median figure.

Additional findings from the always-interesting Pew research in its invaluable Internet & American Life Project can be found here, for those who are interested in looking through more of the “entrails” …

Amazon continues to push the envelope … while pushing books right off the table.

Amazon Kindle continues to push the envelope in book publishingIt’s hard to deny that the growth and success of Amazon has had a huge impact on the book industry. The liquidation of Borders Books is just the latest evidence of that.

But other market moves by Amazon demonstrate that the company has set its sights on far more than just owning the traditional retail book and recorded music segments. The introduction of the Kindle e-reader and release of subsequent newer, cheaper models proves that Amazon seeks to dominate the “information” space no matter what form it takes.

Two recent developments show how this is continuing to happen. First, the company announced that it is launching a new public-library feature that gives the Kindle the same library-borrowing abilities as competing e-reader devices like the Nook offer.

Public libraries have taken notice of the announcement, because Kindle so dominates the e-reader market. According to Forrester Research, an estimated 7.5 million Kindles are being used in America; that’s about two-thirds of all e-readers in the country.

Already, large public library systems such as those in Chicago and New York offer free digital-book lending. A trip to the library is not needed. Instead, patrons simply use their library card ID numbers to download books from the library’s website.

As with conventional “paper and glue” books (I love that new term!), there are “lending periods” for e-books usually ranging 2-3 weeks. Libraries purchase the e-books from publishers as they do bound books, and only one borrower can check out an e-title at a time.

How are Amazon’s latest e-lending developments affecting book publishers? For one thing, e-books never wear out, which means publishers (and authors) can’t benefit from reorders of popular titles due to book wear. Partially for this reason, several major publishers such as Simon & Schuster and Macmillan don’t sell their digital works to libraries … yet.

Adam Rothberg, senior vice president and director of corporate communications at Simon & Schuster, commented, “We value libraries for their work of encouraging literacy and the habit of reading, but we haven’t yet found a business model we’re comfortable with.”

Another publisher, HarperCollins, decided to set a checkout limit for each title of 26 times, after which a library would need to repurchase the book in order to continue lending it out.

Not surprisingly, that policy has been greeted with hoots and catcalls by the library industry.

Regardless of the selling policies under consideration, one wonders how much longer the major publishers can continue to hold out, as the entry of market-dominant Kindle should significantly raise consumer demand for library e-titles.

And in another move that is sure to shake up another segment of the book world – educational textbooks – Amazon announced several weeks ago that it has opened up a “textbook store” for the Kindle platform. That store is already offering thousands of textbook titles for rental, with many more in the offing.

Here’s how it works: Amazon will allow buyers to acquire textbooks at a deep-discount off of the standard print pricing. The charge will be based on the amount of time the student plans to hold the book – with a minimum rental period of 30 days (which can be extended, if desired).

And to further sweeten the pot, borrowers will be able to access any “notes” and “highlights” they’ve made to their texts even after they’ve “returned” the textbooks.

I’ve blogged before about the college textbook publishing segment — a niche some see as an unholy alliance between book publishers and college bookstores that more resembles a “racket” than a fair business model.

Charging ridiculously high textbook prices along with releasing suspiciously frequent “updated” new editions that change perhaps 2% or less of a book’s content have been all too common.

Moves by Amazon – along with similar programs introduced by smaller providers like Chegg, Inkling and Kno – may finally usher in an end to the indefensibly high prices of textbooks that have long been the bane of students (and their parents). And no one is mourning that.

The Latest Read on e-Readers

The e-reader phenomenon continues to grow. In fact, sales of e-readers have turned out to be one of the brightest spots in the consumer electronics segment during the 2009 holiday season.

And 2010 is starting out with a bevy of new e-reader product introductions from a half-dozen different manufacturers.

“Way back” in August 2008, research firm iSupply released projections for e-readers that anticipated 3.5 million units to be sold worldwide in 2009. That was up dramatically from 1.1 million units sold in 2008 – almost all of them Kindle or Sony e-readers.

Those projections were considered highly optimistic by some observers. But now that the year has passed, it’s looking like the prediction was on the low side; iSupply’s revised sales figures for 2009 are closer to 5 million units. And Forrester Research estimates that 2009 e-reader sales in the U.S. were very strong, with ~30% of the sales occurring during the holiday season in November and December.

In fact, Amazon has reported that its Kindle e-reader emerged as the most-gifted item ever from its web site.

Now, hard on the heals of the recent Nook e-reader introduction by Barnes & Noble comes news from the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) of a host of new entrants in the e-reader game. Ranging in price from under $200 to nearly $800, each new entrant is aimed at meeting the needs of different target groups – from those wanting business news to people who wish to read full-length books. Not surprisingly, many of the new enhancements are centered on making the e-reader experience as “easy on the eyes” as possible.

Among the more interesting introductions at CES:

Que (made by Plastic Logic), which incorporates advanced polymer technology to create a shatter-proof screen.

Skiff (Hearst Corporation), which offers a store for digital newspaper/magazine subscriptions.

eDGe (from Entourage Systems), which provides two screens that fold up like a book. (One offers color display and the other a b/w display for newspaper reading.)

Not to be left on the sidelines, the granddaddy in this business – Amazon – is introducing an international version of the Kindle DX. Amazon now offers both larger- and smaller-sized Kindle units in prices ranging from $250 to $500.

With all of these new options in e-readers, what’s in store for 2010 volume? Observers are now predicting that unit sales will be twice as many as in 2009 … which certainly qualifies e-readers as the latest “rage” in the consumer electronics world.

e-Books on the March

The Nook e-Reader, released by Barnes & Noble just in time for the holiday shopping season.
The Nook e-Reader, released by Barnes & Noble just in time for the holiday shopping season.
The e-book revolution continues apace. In the past week, Barnes & Noble announced the introduction of its own electronic book reader – the Nook – to compete against Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s e-reader. Amazon promptly responded by lowering the price of the Kindle to match Barnes & Nobles’ Nook e-reader price. No doubt, both companies are looking to the holiday season, hoping their products will turn out to be among the few that are “stars” in what will otherwise be a season of tepid merchandise sales.

And now Google has gotten into the fray as well. It has announced new details on the pending launch of its e-bookstore, Google Editions. This is an online bookstore that will deliver digital books to any digital device such as e-readers, laptops and cellphones. Google plans to offer up to 600,000 book titles during the first half of 2010 alone, nearly matching the number of volumes that Barnes & Nobles will be offering with the Nook.

True to form, Google seems bent on taking an idea that is gained acceptance in the market – and then scrambling the deck to create a new set of game rules. In this case, it’s attempting an end-run around Amazon’s and Barnes & Nobles’ proprietary e-reader devices by offering the ability to download books to any digital device.

Google’s hope is that e-readers will eventually lose their luster once books are available for download to any device. But Forrester Research is estimating that ~3 million e-readers will be sold in 2009 — ~1 million higher than its earlier estimate. And some observers think that Google may be underestimating the importance and value of the proprietary e-readers; they note that Kindle users have been highly satisfied with the product and how it performs. (Besides, the audience for reading entire books on a cellphone device is probably pretty limited!)

In Google’s program, publishers will set the price of books, while Google will earn over half of the profits and share them with its retail partners. But there is an aspect of Google Editions that might turn out to be a significant “negative” for at least some users. Google is toying with the idea of including AdWords or AdSense advertising in its book offerings. Cramming a bunch of advertising surrounding the book contents could be a big turnoff. Even having blue-highlighted links in the text — while normal and expected when reading an online article such as this NonesNotes blog post – could be a major distraction when plowing through the contents of an entire book volume.

Regardless of how things play out, it’s clear that the ~$150 million e-book segment is going nowhere but up in the coming years, and it will be interesting to see how each of the key industry players ends up faring in the coming months. (And the story line gets even juicier with reports that Apple is also nosing around this market and may have something important to unveil before long.)