A Small Thought on E-Books

3 Jan 2011 by Randall Helms, 2 Comments »

Firstly, Happy New Year’s!

Secondly, yesterday a friend sent through a look forward to the tech world in 2011 by the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones. It’s well worth a look – much of it is highly relevant to social media marketers, but just for a change, I’d like to look at something else, which is his thoughts on the e-book market:

Will iPad 2 keep Apple ahead?

As ever, Apple has said nothing about a new iPad, but there is plenty of evidence that a second version of the tablet which rocked the tech world in 2010 will have its second coming in 2011.

When it is unveiled, iPad 2 is likely to be thinner and lighter than its predecessor and to feature a camera for video calls. By then there should be a clutch of Android tablets – and the odd Windows slate – with similar or better functionality. They are also likely to undercut the iPad, which experience shows will stay around the same price at which it launched.

But don’t bet that Apple’s device will be toppled from its perch. The aura of cool around the iPad – however much it may be despised by some of the digerati – is not going to fade soon, and there is a vast reservoir of untapped demand for the tablet from a less techie audience which will not accept a substitute.

Mind you, when it comes to e-readers, here’s one confident prediction: Amazon’s Kindle will prove a far more popular place to buy and read e-books than the iPad.

As someone who worked in publishing for a number of years before the MBA, this subject is of great interest to me. My personal feeling is that even if the Kindle offers a superior reading experience to the iPad, it will be multi-functional devices such as the iPad and other tablet computers that will drive more sales of ebooks in the long term than dedicated devices such as the Kindle.

Why?

Well, because the largest single segment of readers of conventional books are those people who buy 1-4 books a year. There is a minority of people (like myself) who are heavy readers and who buy books regularly throughout the year, but the typical reader (defined as anyone who reads at least one book annually) is much less prolific. For such people, it doesn’t make sense to buy a dedicated device – they don’t need it. They don’t read enough to see the full benefits of it, either in terms of utility or in terms of savings (since e-books tend to be a bit cheaper than paper books).

However, industry analysts are forecasting that several hundred tablet computers are likely to be sold in the next several years – I’ve seen predictions that Apple alone will sell nearly 40 million iPads next. It seems highly likely that many of the people who will buy tablets in this period will be those casual readers who currently purchase a handful of books each year. If they switch to buying e-books for their tablet computers, then this will open up a huge new market, massively expanding the existing market for e-books (which, despite the hype, still accounts for less than 10% of the US book market).

In my opinion, the future of the e-books market is therefore more dependent on the health of the market for tablet devices than it is on the popularity of dedicated e-readers.

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2 Comments

  1. Eoin Purcell says:

    If that’s the group you want to reach then limiting to tablets is a short sighted as limiting to kindle.

    The key is to mobilize you content cross platform and markets so that the light users can access it easily whenever the idea strikes them.

    A large part of me wonders though whether this group are likely to shift to digital books at all. More likely the irregular reader will be buying the cheap paperback from a supermarket in five years time then bothering to create an account on some online store to buy an ebook for a ui they are unfamiliar with and not too keen on!

    Eoin

  2. hi Eoin,

    Thanks for commenting!

    I agree with your skepticism – I’ve never been convinced by people who say “the printed book is doomed!” There’s a lot less need for a digital alternative to the print book than, say, there was to cd’s. I think print and e-books can, and will, coexist.

    I also agree on your point about the hassle of creating new accounts, which is part of why I think that multifunctional devices will play a key role in spreading digital books, because if books are sold in the same place as apps, music, movies, etc, then it is much easier and less painful for the casual reader to access them than would be the case with having to go through a specific e-book store.

    I’ve been travelling all day so I hope that is clear enough!

    best,

    Randall

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