As E-book Sales Explode, Consumption Patterns Change

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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