Blog Post

Why Some Book Buyers Are Increasingly Resistant To E-Readers

Book marketing firm Verso Advertising recently found that over half of book buyers say they are “not at all likely” to purchase an e-reader in the next 12 months — up from 40 percent in 2009. Why?

I asked Verso’s Jack McKeown and Denise Berthiaume why they think avid book buyers — those who buy at least ten books a year — are increasingly resistant to e-readers. McKeown and Berthiaume are also the co-owners of Books & Books, an independent bookstore on Long Island. Here’s what they think:

1. E-readers and tablets do not yet provide sufficient “relative advantage” over physical books to convince this hard core group of book readers to switch to these devices. In other words, the convenience of e-readers is not enough of a factor to offset the abandonment of the codex — with its stereoscopic (two-page) effect, tactile and aesthetic appeal, and more immersive impact — for many hardcore book readers.

2. Screen fatigue: Book readers, and in particular avid readers, enjoy the escape that physical books provide from the array of screen technologies that absorb so much of their working day.

3. Avid book readers enjoy the discoverability experience of shopping in a physical bookstore where contact with the physical product, and interaction with knowledgeable staff, convey an added benefit.

A couple more reasons could be found in another group that is resistant to e-readers — teenagers, who lag behind all other age groups in e-book adoption. Last week at Digital Book World, Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher presented new research on teens’ book buying habits.

Teens like using social technology to discuss and share things with their friends, he said, and e-books at this point are not a social technology. An increasing number of teens surveyed says there are too many restrictions on using e-books: 14 percent said so in 2011, compared to 6 percent in 2010.

11 Responses to “Why Some Book Buyers Are Increasingly Resistant To E-Readers”

  1. Observer

    In UK you pay 20% VAT on e-books, so VAT-free paperbacks are actually cheaper on Amazon. I got a Kindle for Xmas and have enjoyed plenty of free books, but second-hand plus library books make for a cheaper, more enjoyable alternative. Also, the Kindle page-turner gives me RSI

  2. Isn’t the problem with DRM etc. one of convenience? The record industry may not have approved of people recording onto C90s from the radio or bought tapes, but it was enough of a faff that people would rather shell out a reasonable amount for a new one. With digital copying, the effort was reduced and this knackered the industry. Similarly, no-one could actually stop you photocopying your favourite bits from a book and sharing it, and libraries restrict/manage the number of copies that are read for free (and pay money to the producers of the book). If you make eBooks easy to distribute, for free, book lovers will damage the industry that supplies them. I’ve heard convincing arguments that a true book lover wouldn’t pass their old copies onto charity shops, and allow circulation of books that doesn’t put money back into the trade, but since my local Oxfams mainly carry Ludlums and JK Rowlings, and publishers pulp millions of books annually, this argument holds less water than the opposition to eBooks.

  3. I’m with Lisa. Although an Apple fanatic, never been that interested in ebooks, like the physical thing, etc etc. Until I realized you could get a Kindle app for the iphone / ipad, downloaded a free book (free? Book? What’s that about?) and was delighted to discover that I don’t have to use all sorts of complicated home engineering methods (breadboard, pepper grinder) to keep it open at a page while I’m reading and eating. I’m an eating reader, and for that reason alone I’m an e-book convert. Fab. Plus never having to pack six paperbacks to go on a week’s holiday again? How can that not be great? Especially once you’ve read them and have to haul them all the way home again. Give them away? Moi?  No sir.

  4. Isn’t this more likely to have a simple mathematical explanation? Let’s say last year 100 people responded as not having an eReader, of which 40% said they’re not at all likely to buy one, i.e. 40 people.

    Now let’s say of the 60 people who therefore might buy one, 20 actually did buy one last year. That means of that original 100 people, the sample size has reduced to 80 people. Assuming the same number of people still don’t have an intention to buy one (i.e. 40 people), that works out as 50% this time around (40 out of 80).So the real number of people not wanting an ereader has remained constant, but as a proportion it has risen.Seems a likely explanation given how many more people now own an ereader compared to this time last year (1 million Kindles per week in December, not to mention iPad etc.).

  5. Clarence O Ritchie

    Dear Electronic One,
         I love to hold a Book or Bible in my hands, and feel the wonderful touch of Cloth, Paper, and Ink in my hand! When’s the last ime you felt an Electronic Screen up-close and personal, or hand to look away from a glaring screen when your eyes got fatigued from looking at it! My goodness, what fun is using a Kindle at home, while the excitement of a new or used Bookstore beckoned you to have a leisurely tour, or the crisp, clean lines of your local Library called out to come for a visit. Or maybe you had a visit to the local Coffe Bar or Cafe to sit and read while you sipped your Latte, or Chai, or Coffee, and ate your Scone or Sandwich, what a wonderful experience. Don’t get me wrong Electronic Readers have some use, research or school projects, etc.,but when all is said and done the romantic experience of Reading a Book or Bible far outweighs the cold, austere experience of holding your E-Reader, what about it Avid reader?
    Many blessings from a Book maven.
    Lars-Proverbs 11:30
    PS. Go to Schulers bookstore in Grand Rapids, MI, you’ll never go back to your E-Reader after visiting there!!!!!

  6. I hope that printed books survive and prosper, but I feel I have heard the arguments above for vinyl records, 35mm film, DVDs, magazines and newspapers, all of which are struggling to remain in a physical format. The tsunami of changes that are coming together make it inevitable that the traditional book market will continue to shrink and at some point it will become uneconomic and impractical to continue creating and distributing books on paper.

    Some of the many trends include:

    The economics of print v digital
    The falling price of tablets and ereaders (soon be free?)
    The adoption rate of tablets and ereaders (29% of US adults)
    The downward price pressure on ebooks (zero cost distribution)
    The increasing use of ereaders in schools and universities
    The drive to get all educational textbooks into electronic format
    The increasing dominance of Apple and Amazon in book distribution
    Third world countries using ebooks to cost-effectively expand educational programs
    Convenience and portability of ebooks
    Cloud storage – any book, anywhere, any time
    Increasing number of digital-only authors and publishers
    Choice of font size
    Early adopters of tablets and ereaders are also the biggest book consumers
    Emergence of global standards for ebooks
    Amazon’s ‘free’ book library within Prime package (= all-access book subscriptions?)

    I dearly hope that books continue to thrive in my lifetime, but I suspect the momentum towards digital will be similar to the move from letters to email, film to digital cameras and CDs to Ipods. We must enjoy them whilst we can.

  7. Dave Van Amburg

    Despite my plethora of computers (7), iPad and other technological wonders, not to mention the number of ebooks I check out from my library, I remain resistant to eBook readers for several reasons.

    1) Most important is the value proposition. I read probably 12-15 books per month not counting technical publications and books. Some wind up on my crowded bookshelves to be reread and loaned, some are passed on to friends and many are donated to the library and various reading programs. They go on to a long and useful life, something impossible for eBooks. 

    2) While I like the convenience of traveling with a small library on my iPad, not to mention access to the electronic resources of libraries, my preference is the experience of holding a ‘real’ book. Despite the iPad I almost always carry several paperbacks along on trips and usually buy several more at used book stores found along the way.

    3) I like the experience of browsing both the book stores, large and small, and libraries. It is still a far more satisfying experience than browsing Amazon or iTunes.

    There simply is no compelling reason for me to pay full price for a very restricted ‘copy’ of a book when I can pay the same for paper and get so much more use and pleasure out of it.

    Until the publishing industry sorts out its DRM issues, standards and most of all its restrictions on use I will be a very limited user of ebooks and consequently have no real reason to purchase a reader.

  8. fogcitygirl

    I love bookstores and through “shelf-surfing,” I find many more interesting books and end up buying more than I had initially intended. How to find good content is a quandry that plagues not just book sellers but videos, articles, fashion, etc. To me, nothing has yet to replace the serendipity and delight of that discovery experience.                   

  9. I like the comment Joe made about used bookstores. So glad we still have those! I love browsing there and usually find more than I should… I’m a librarian as well as a professional book reviewer. At first I stubbornly refused eBooks and had many an argument about it with my engineer husband, who frankly doesn’t get it (why book lovers love actual BOOKS). But, readers, I buckled. I own both a Sony eReader and my husband surprised me with the Kindle Fire for Christmas. I also use the Kindle app on my iPhone. It’s a convenience thing. When my phone’s with me I know I’ll always have reading material. And I can get almost anything right away. Which is another problem… But I will always love BOOK books.

  10. Thanks to that survey I now know that I’m way more than an avid reader (I’ve already bought 6 books in January).  I am planning on buying an e-reader (I currently use the kindle app on my phone), but the reasons above are definitely why I haven’t yet.  I do prefer shopping in a store to discover new books over Amazon/B&N recommendations online.  One other possibility avid readers don’t plan to buy e-readers is the fact that I get half my books from used book stores.  That’s something that may be keeping others from switching.  If you’re an avid reader dropping $80-$199 for a reader, then still paying full price for a book isn’t an incentive to switch.