Google eBooks has partnered with IndieCommerce stores for more than a year, and those stores also now have mobile sites; both Amazon and B&N have introduced tablet e-readers; the iPad 2 is out, and 3 is rumored to be coming soon. How have e-reading habits changed over the past year? The answers, as presented by my not-terribly-scientific survey below, are heartening, at least for this bookseller.
I altered the questions a bit to help make responses clearer while still mapping with last year's data. This past January, I asked:
- Where do you get your e-books?
- Which device or devices do you use to read your e-books?
- Which dedicated e-reader or e-readers do you own?
- What is your favorite thing about e-books and e-reading?
- What is your least favorite thing about e-books and e-reading?
The survey went out via Twitter, tumblr and Facebook and netted 345 anonymous responses. There were "other" options not included in the first two charts below, since they don't map nicely. Because the data was so interesting, and there were so many potential ways to parse it that I didn't have either the time or the know-how to take advantage of, I'm making the raw data available. If anyone does play with it, I hope you'll e-mail me and let me know what you find!
Don't get too excited about Kindle being down--the device itself has actually increased as respondents' e-reader of choice. The shift might be due to the change in wording, or perhaps an increasing awareness of the alternatives (just about every other source is up). OverDrive is now the second highest source for e-books, next to Kindle--as a fan, too, I hope that the morass that publishers, OverDrive and libraries seem trapped in can be resolved in a way that works for everyone. If, as Sherman Alexie maintained in 2009, e-books are fundamentally elitist, then library lending is the silver lining. Google eBooks from indies continued to grow--as did reported piracy. It would be interesting to find out the rationale behind pirated e-books; are they of titles not otherwise available? Is it a price issue? Geographic DRM-induced rage? If someone has done a study on this, I couldn't find it, although many people have expressed opinions.
I was curious if people were reading primarily on dedicated devices or multi-use devices, and you can see the answer above: about 70% of all respondents for all three years have a dedicated e-reader of some sort. Smartphone and iPad use both went up, while computer/laptop use has stayed relatively stationary.
Kindles and Nooks continue to dominate the e-readers, but Sony was down by half. One possible reason is that both Amazon and B&N have introduced tablet readers; Sony does make a tablet computer, but they aren't marketing it alongside their readers in the same way as the other companies.
In terms of reader favorites, convenience and portability continue to be number one, at more than 60% for all three surveys. Immediate access also stayed even at 20% across the board. The "wonders of technology" camp (those who love resizing, reading in bed or one-handed, that kind of thing) had a resurgence to 12%, up from 5% in April of 2011 and comparable to January 2011.
Least favorites also held relatively steady. Format and feature frustrations--lending, cover and pagination issues in particular--were in the lead at 30%; the inevitable limitations of technology (battery, back-lit screens, can't get it wet, etc.) came in at 20%, up slightly from 17% and 18% in January and April of last year. 23% of readers miss the physical object or benefits thereof, up from 18% and 20%. DRM, pricing and selection/availability were 6% each--a drop for DRM, down from 11% and 18%, but a hold for pricing.
My personal favorite part of the survey continues to be the last optional question: define DRM in your own words. 61% answered, 80% of them with a genuine--or attempted--definition. 17% of those who did answer admitted that they had no idea. (My favorite of the non-definitions was "doodle rat muffin.") The answers are definitely worth taking a look through, as they betray a wide range of emotional responses to digital rights management, as well as confusion on who controls it and whom it is supposed to benefit.
While it's tempting to indulge in speculation about the ups and downs shown above, there are a few interesting things that came out in this year's survey that deserve note. If we look at the data from 2012 in a slightly different way, we see that 53% of respondents are reading on a Kindle device, 41% on a smartphone, 33% on an iPad, 18% on a Nook, and 6% on a Sony Reader. That means that basically half the playing field is open for readers to get their e-books from an indie bookstore, since the Google eBooks app is compatible with phones and iPads.
The Verso Digital survey notes that "readers of all kinds split purchases between a variety of retailers," and this is true of e-book buying as well. Thirty percent of respondents in 2012 are getting their e-books from more than one source. Five percent of respondents are reading on more than one device, and 7% of respondents who have an e-reader have more than one. While these percentages may seem small, they represent an opportunity for indies. How many of your customers who own Kindles or Nooks are also reading on their phone or their laptop? At least a few, and possibly more, and each of them is a reminder to us not to assume that because someone has a Kindle they can no longer be your customer. If ever there was an invitation to try and get that "next sale," this is it. --Jenn Northington