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As E-book Sales Explode, Consumption Patterns Change

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Marc Parrish, Barnes & Noble, at Structure Big Data 2011From the first publication of the Gutenberg bible to the current shift to e-books, authors have always been trying to publish as universally as possible. Now with electronic publishing, the idea is to try to get your media out to the greatest number of people as quickly as possible, according to Marc Parrish, VP of Retention and Loyalty Management at Barnes & Noble (s bks).

Speaking at Structure Big Data today, Parrish opened by posing the question: Would Shakespeare be involved in social media today to promote his writing? Parrish noted that The Bard built the Globe Theatre using forward-thinking design, including the ability to create special effects, and said that Shakespeare would have no fear of modern technology. Many authors today are the same.

The initial print run of the Gutenberg Bible comprised 180 books, qualifying it as the first mass-produced book. The usual print run following was 200-1000 books. By 1600, 200 million physical books had been published.

There were fits and starts of digital content in the 1980s and 90s, but the technology just wasn’t there yet for e-books. Franklin’s electronic dictionary was the biggest success at 800,000 sold, when it found the magic price point. Other efforts failed because the digital version was the same price as the physical.

By the end of 2011, penetration of e-readers could reach as high as 35 percent. We’re on a diet of 34GB a day: one-quarter of War and Peace, with books starting to become part of this data mix. In 2008, a total of 3.6 zetabytes of information were consumed.

The book business is now changing more rapidly than any other form of physical media. At this cusp, the industry needs to understand the data being generated, as well as consumed, by customers. In the past year, 25 percent of those surveyed said they’d read both ebooks and print books. Five percent read more e-books than print books.

Parrish still gave no concrete numbers of Nook sales, only mentioning “millions” of Nook users.

He did note that the consumption pattern of books is also shifting. Readers tend toward a favorite author, category, personal recommendations, or flap text. Thirty percent of books are still discovered in the brick-and-mortar bookstore, but many then purchase in e-book format. The discovery model for publishers on e-readers is shifting; people buy a narrower set of books, because they have no idea what’s out there. They need a new way to discover books, but brick-and-mortar stores are still the best advertising.

For Barnes & Noble, the data they are dealing with is exploding. It’s a big, rapid change: They have 35 terabytes of data currently, but expect 20 terabytes in 2011.

The challenge now for book sellers is to merge the dot-com website, mobile devices, and brick-and-mortar stores (subscription required) for a seamless experience. E-books are at a turn in the road; but with analytics at hand, they can capture the customers’ imagination.

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3 Responses to “As E-book Sales Explode, Consumption Patterns Change”

  1. hortron

    Here’s my wife’s unlikely story. She received a nook color for the holidays. She bought a few magazines and a book. finished them – bought a book or two for a vacation, then another magazine.

    Realized that she was going from spending maybe $50/year on books and magazines to that much every month. So I sold the Nook on ebay for her 2 weeks ago.

    She’s happy going back to the library. Also, the plan was to borrow ebooks from our library and another system we have access to – but that was a joke – none of the books she’d ever want to read were checked in, and putting them in a queue was far more trouble than it was worth.

    • That’s a good cost-cutting measure in the near-term, but what happens long-term? Publishers are reducing the number of times libraries can lend e-books, and print is gradually being reduced as we watch the brick-and-mortar bookstores disappear.

      Personally, my iPad is my e-reader, and I use Kindle, Nook, Stanza, and Bluefire. I manage my spending the same way I did with paper books: via wishlist and occasional spending, watching for sales. The nice part now is that the books don’t have to be stored, or get musty, or get banged up being dragged around in my purse.

      • ambiguator

        In the long term, publishers will have to recognize that creating artificial scarcity is not a sustainable business practice. E-book prices will continue to fall, and restrictive licensing schemes will shift back towards ownership.

        If publishers do not recognize this, it’s reasonable to expect a growing e-book piracy market.