Let Readers Share E-Books, And They’ll Really Take Off

Limits on sharing and borrowing are limiting widespread e-book adoption. Remove those barriers, new research says, and the e-book market will expand even faster than it already has. Here’s that and some other new statistics…

Each week, e-book journalist Charlotte Abbot (@charabbot) leads an hour-long Twitter discussion with publishing industry innovators, identified by the hashtag #followreader. Yesterday’s discussion, about e-book buyer behavior, included reps from leading book industry research organizations Book Industry Study Group and Bowker PubTrack Consumer (on Twitter here). The two companies collaborate on research about consumer attitudes toward e-book reading. Here are some of their newest findings (and their earlier findings on e-book power buyers are here):

–About 15 percent of book buyers have adopted e-books. Steve Paxhia, who wrote the report, was surprised at e-book readers’ loyalty to the format. “It turns out that when readers go digital they rarely return to print,” he said.

–E-book buyers buy more books than print book buyers. In May 2011, over 30 percent of e-book buyers said they’d increased the money they spend on books, versus 23 percent who decreased their spending. However, the increases in dollar spending are lower than the increases in units purchased–i.e., people are buying more e-books but those books may be lower-priced.

–Half of e-book buyers have been downloading free e-books. Consumers expect e-book prices to stay low or drop lower.

–Biggest inducements to buy an e-book: Free sample chapters and online reviews.

–About half of e-readers are purchased as gifts–but less than 1 percent of e-books purchased are as gifts. (Overall, 14 percent of books are purchased as gifts.)

–The study supports other research finding that women are more likely to use dedicated e-readers and men are more likely to use tablets. That reflects the genres they read, Paxhia said: E-readers are more likely to be used to read fiction (a category dominated by women) while tablets are more likely to be used to read nonfiction.

–Only 12 percent of tablet users read e-books on their tablets. Frequent e-book buyers prefer dedicated e-readers to tablets because of the portability and ease of purchase of new titles. E-readers are “focused” devices–like books. Tablets are used for multitasking.

–Barriers to widespread e-book adoption are limits on sharing, borrowing and reselling. These issues need to be addressed before more jump on the e-book bandwagon, Bowker’s Carl Kulo said. (Kindle library lending is on the way. You might see the ability to resell your e-books on Kindle roughly when hell freezes over.)

–Bowker expects the e-book market to continue to expand as devices become less expensive (Paxhia thinks we’ll see an e-reader under $99 this year) and as sharing gets easier.

The #followreader discussion is held on Twitter every Friday at 4 PM EST. (It’s been held on Thursdays in the summer but that will change next week.)