Tuesday, February 14, 2012

E-books, readers and real numbers: What does it mean?

A month or so ago, Verso Advertising released the results of its 2011 Survey of Book-Buying Behavior. You writers, you really need to take a look at this survey’s results. I think you’ll be surprised by a few things.

I’m not going to go into everything revealed in the survey, but there are a few items I would like to point out.

First, according to several different questions asked in the survey, it seems approximately 50 percent of regular book readers are adamant about not purchasing, owning or using an e-book reader in the next year.

Think about that. For writers, that is half our potential readership.

What does this mean? For independent writers, it means our works need to be in print as well as in digital formats. If you are focusing solely upon digital publication, then you are missing out on a lot of readers, a lot of potential sales.

There will likely be those who scoff at this survey’s results, and I freely admit a survey, even one as extensive as this one, can not possibly cover all possibilities. For instance, will that 50 percent remain steady, or will it change in coming years? I predict change as readers become more and more familiar with reading digital books, and as older readers are replaced by younger readers. I base that on no facts, but common sense. I might be wrong. We’ll know more in a decade or so.

The second thing I would like to point out is that according to the survey, avid readers (those who read 10 or more books per year) buy just as many print books as they do e-books. Again, this means we need to pay attention to the print markets, and our works need to be available in print.

The last thing I would like to mention is that more readers seem to be willing to pay higher prices for e-books than seems to be the general consensus out there in the blogosphere. So many independent writers are focusing upon free and cheap e-books to draw in readers, and I won’t argue that this can not be effective, but are we underestimating our readership and our potential readership? As crazy as it might sound, should we be charging more? Will charging more at the least give an impression of higher quality? I can’t answer those questions, so sorry, but I do believe the questions are worth asking. Each independent writer has to answer those questions for him- or herself, and decide what they think is the best route to publication and, hopefully, success.

What do you think?


Stewart Sternberg said...

I have been having the above debate with people on and off for the last few years. However, considering how hard it is to get a book on a shelf for different distributors, and how the big five publishing entities jealously guard their lock on the market, I think the independent author, ebook, small press partnership will only be strengthened.

One more point, and a question...what about genres? Is there a different stat out there for readers of genre? Do fans of dark fiction want hard copy, or are they geared toward ebooks? Is this changing? As young readers reach the age of majority and pick up new titles, they'll be used to digital ink.

Oh well...at least we aren't talking about these scary stats,,,

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

Charles Gramlich said...

I know I've had a bunch of folks tell me they'd read days of beer if it were in print. I need to look into that.

Brent Nichols said...

This is interesting, and I don't know what to think. There are always those who are adamantly against a new technology until they try it, at which point they flip sides. But I hope the print industry stays reasonably strong.

I'm appalled by the stats Sternberg quotes above. Sheesh.

Jake Scholl said...

A lot of my friends don't have ereaders, and prefer print over digital. So a self-published writer, that wants more readers should make print versions also, like with Createspace or Lightning Source, to name a few.

David L. Shutter said...


Lot of pertinent info in that link, thanks. Despite the stories of rampant e-pub success and everyone's "Deathwatch" for the Big 6, e-pub is still a sales minority.

Big question is for how long?

Experienced voices like DWS promote sales diversity and "submitting" as well as uploading independently. But I think the future course is very clear.

The Big 6 could start pulling e-market share rabbits out of hats and completely change the game, who knows, but the only future I can see with pursuing traditional is giving up over 80% of e-royalties, forever, when print becomes niche.

If I sound like a Konrath parrot, sorry, he makes a hell of an argument.

Just my 0.02$

Keith said...

I think one of the reasons people who publish their own work electronically are so enthusiastic about ebooks and digital media is simply that they are the outliers on the distribution of reading preference. This sometimes causes an inbreeding effect, where they tend to talk to each other more than they talk to people who fall more towards the center or the other end of the distribution. That's why surveys like this one are so important. They can bring a more balanced perspective to the dialogues.