Ebook Trends: The Year of Living Digitally
Devices, Demographics and the Fate of Print
Ebooks and the devices needed to read them are more frequently acquired by younger, better educated and more affluent than average consumers. When the BISG study began in 2009, the ebook adopter “profile” had higher than average percentages of male, 30- to 44-year-old, employed college graduates with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000. Today, women far outnumber men. The other demographic “norms,” while still high, are less so, compared with other age, education, employment and income groups. For example, respondents over 55 and retirees now make up significantly higher percentages of ebook “Power Buyers” (those who acquire ebooks at least weekly) than they did in 2010. Younger consumers are still dominant, but the ebook adoption landscape is getting flatter.
In the short term, this means that print will remain a preferred traditional book format—but for a progressively smaller audience. Print’s greatest advantages—comfort level, lack of technology overhead, lower total cost of ownership—will not survive as device costs drop, and as consumer comfort levels with digital increase.
Print may in fact find a lasting niche for book consumers—analogous to vinyl albums in the recording industry, or perhaps based on another, yet-to-be-defined value proposition. Be that as it may, many analysts believe that print will not be the primary mass medium for book content in the long term.
This prediction has caveats. For all its other flaws, print is still a more open, stable reading and storage medium. It is not subject to technical malfunctions, the lifecycle of DRM-controlling companies, or the longevity of their e-reading software. To fully supplant print, the ebook format must also satisfy the needs of future readers, researchers and archivists.
Ebook Channels and Discoverability
According to the BISG study, Amazon dominates the resale channel, with 73% of respondents acquiring ebooks via the Amazon Web site, and 13% doing so directly with the Kindle app. Amazon is certainly not the exclusive source, however. The Barnes & Noble web site is an ebook source for 21% of respondents’ acquisitions, followed by public libraries, Apple’s iBooks/iTunes apps, and a host of smaller sources. Most of these are based on an e-reader app, such as Google Play Books or Kobo, with in-app purchasing on Android devices and web-based purchasing for Apple iOS devices.