Surprising new information about consumer and student e-book reading habits capped off this year's International Digital Publishing Forum conference at the Javits Center in New York.
Based on two Book Industry Study Group research projects—a 60-question survey of 750 book consumers conducted four times a year and a twice-year survey of 1500 students—the e-book reading statistics were presented Tuesday morning by Steve Paxhia of Beacon Hill Strategies.
Of consumers surveyed in January 2011, 77.3 percent are "satisfied" or "highly satisfied" with the price of e-books, Paxhia said. The feature sets most desired in e-books are affordability (seen by 75 percent of respondents as "very important"), followed by readability, ease of acquisition, portability (all over 70 percent) and speed (over 60 percent). Searchability and eco-friendliness were important to 35 percent of respondents, though the later is growing as a factor.
Among reading devices, consumers are most satisfied with Amazon's Kindle (75 percent) followed by the Nook (70 percent) and iPad (60 percent). "As a reading device, we consider this to be a bifurcated market," Paxhia said. "Many people who buy iPads read on iPads, but people who buy dedicated readers buy them for reading. And the satisfaction that we're seeing among this dedicated reading market is tremendous."
Amazon's market share continues to grow, up from 50 percent of e-books sold in Nov. 2009 to 65 percent today. The Nook is also "doing well," but Apple is not gaining e-book market share at the rate some people predicted, which supports the notion that avid readers are still turning to dedicated reading devices, he said.
The student market shows deep dissatisfaction with textbook prices (only 33 percent of respondents say prices are "reasonable"), and only 30 percent of surveyed faculty require textbooks to be bought for core courses.
A "very scary trend" is illicit student behavior such as photocopying chapters, buying international versions of textbooks or downloading from unauthorized websites. The e-book market is still contenting with fallout from low satisfaction with the initial wave of e-textbooks, suggesting that growth in the market will come from premium, enhanced products, Paxhia said.
Students use laptops and desktops far more than dedicated devices and tablets for reading e-textbooks, though this gap is expected to narrow as more powerful tablets are introduced in the next 12-18 months, he added.
Paxhia said consumer e-book purchase behavior "screams out" that digital product development needs to be well underway.
"When you have recognizable value that the consumer can quickly see, well designed devices and platforms [and] strong, enthusiastic channel partners, it equals rapid market expansion," he said.
E- books or Apps?
Publishers are experimenting in the marketplace to identify the best ways to use enhanced ebooks and apps. In the non-fiction space, apps are a natural fit with data-heavy products, noted Random House's Liisa McCloy-Kelley during a Monday afternoon discussion. "There are a lot of things that are books these days that really would be better apps," she said.
"Apps are the transformation for non fiction," Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks said at a publishers' roundtable earlier Monday, while noting it is tough to hold price points in a world of 99 cent apps. A way to offset this, she said, is to "take [a] vertical and provide a suite of apps ... that fill [readers'] needs."
Richard Nash of Red Lemonade/Cursor said e-book enhancements are too often driven by a desire to hold price points, rather than truly enhance the product. Building in multimedia "do-dads," he said, is a "producer-driven impulse rather than reader-driven or even [author]-driven impulse."
Raccah disagreed, calling her company forays into apps "incredibly exploratory."
"We did not want to enhance price points," she said. "We did it to 'blow up' the book." The core challenge for her developers, she said, is to make sure extra features serve to further immerse people in stories, rather than take them out of them.
"We must experiment," Peter Balis of John Wiley and Sons said of e-books in a Monday afternoon session. "Anyone who says we are just out to make money must not know the profit margins."
The purpose of enhanced e-books, Balis said, is to create a product that connects the author to the reader in new ways, allowing audio and visual learners to get as much from a book as those who respond best to the written word.
Refusing to be pushed aside as irrelevant is the humble Web browser, which Nash said will, as an open ecosystem, continue to constitute a significant competition to apps and e-readers. Google's Abe Murray surprised many during Monday's first session when he said one-quarter of Google Books users read books primarily on their laptops, about the same percentage as read books on their phones. (One in five utilize e-readers, he said, while the rest read on tablets.)
In a later session, Peter Brantley of digital book lender Internet Archive confirmed that "surprisingly" large numbers of people (he estimated around 25 percent) use the lending service to download books onto laptops and desktops.
Still, Vook's Bradley Inman said the uncurated information offered by browsers constitutes a fundamentally different experience from that of books—one that tablets, on the other hand, are able to successfully replicate.
Tablets, he said, allow people to read in a way that is familiar and comfortable, offer "delivered" (packaged) curation and, like books, can become "extensions of our being."
We take tablets to bed, outdoors, and "fear losing them" the way we would a beloved novel, he said. "We did not do that with laptops."
The newest iteration of the global IDPF e-book standard, EPUB 3, offers expanded applicability for global language support and is designed to work with "complex, interactive, media rich titles" like textbooks, STM books and magazines, the IDPF's Bill McCoy said. The new format also improves accessibility for readers with disabilities, offers styling and layout enhancements, improved metadata capabilities and is specifically designed to work with HTML5.
McCoy announced that, after a year-long development process, the updated standards have been approved and passed by all stakeholders in the IDPF working group, a key step towards its adoption.
Masaaki Hagino and Daihei Shiohama of e-book developer Voyager Japan demonstrated EPUB 3's advantages for rendering Japanese text on digital devices in a separate session on the business of digital publishing.
In a powerpoint presentation, they also took attendees on a trip back in time to one of the earliest e-books: a English-language floppy disk version of "Jurassic Park" developed in Japan in 1991, which offered familiar features such as full-text search. "All the fundamental elements [of today's e-books] are included here," they noted.