How ebooks have changed my book purchasing habits

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how I seem to be reading more ebooks than print books. This has been happening since I started using my iPhone to read books  and now I happily read on my iPad each night.

My main reading of print books (dare I use the term ‘pbook’?) is for the toddlers and every night they get one or two delightful children’s books read to them.  I’ve spend most of my career producing books and I love them – but my purchasing habits have changed substantially over the last few years and as ereading devices become more popular it will be interesting to see if other Australians follow my habits.

Suveying ebook consumers

I was interested earlier this year when the Book Industry Study Group released results of their survey into ebook consumers.

They asked US ebook readers participating in the survey three times over the course of nine months (Nov 2009 thru July 2010), questions such as:

  • When did you first begin acquiring ebooks?
  • Where do you typically acquire ebooks?
  • Which genre(s) are you more likely to read as an ebook rather than a print book?
  • What device do you now use most frequently to read ebooks?

Of course, it IS the US, so how much can we actually glean from this for our own market? Well, probably I lot I suspect, because different though our two countries are I think trends in ebook purchasing will probably follow what has gone before in the States.

The stuggle for bookshops

Bookshops – the kind that you walk into, browse through and queue up to get your purchase – are not getting much of my business anymore. Instead I’m buying books from the comfort of my bed, and usually going straight to a retailer such as Kobo or Amazon.

Sorry bookshops, I will always love you and I hate to think I’m contributing to your struggles, but it’s just too easy and delivers immediate gratification.

Yes I know that bookshops are investing in digital and some of you (A&R and Borders – both in trouble financially)  even have your ebookstores powered by the same company that I mainly purchase from – Kobo. It’s just that Kobo has beaten you. They have their iPhone app and iPad app, and that’s how I buy from them. Why do I need you?

At O’Reilly Tools of Changein February 2010 BISG released findings from the second data collection and a link to that (edited) presentation can be found here.

One finding that leapt out at me was how consumers have changed their purchasing habits since they started buying ebooks.

Graph from BISG ebook purchasing habits Survey


Although I haven’t seen the second fielding results, the first indicate other consumers are like me – 25% mostly purchase ebooks and purchase less print books than before. Although the results indicate there are still people who want books – of course – in what must be alarming results for booksellers it certainly seems there is a strong swing towards digital books.

It’s just so convenient

I will always buy books, and I’m sure I will always walk into a bookshop and buy a book that seduces me with a combination of brilliant design and alluring content. But if my main consumption – my disposable consumption to feed my reading habits – are not reliant upon the printed page, merely the words and convenience then ebooks get my vote!

I eavesdropped on a conversation recently while waiting to start a presentation on Digital Publishing. The women were talking about their obsession with the Twilight series of books by Stephanie Myer and one said that when she finished the first book she had to leave the house at some unglodly hour to drive to Kmart to buy the next book in the series!

When discussing ebooks in my presentation I mentioned that Michael Tamblyn, EVP Content, Sales & Merchandising at KOBO spoke at The Digital Revolution, Publishing in the 21st Century in February 2010. Kobo had done research on why people read ebooks and their top ranking was ‘Instant. I can buy whenever I want and wherever’. In fact I seem to remember Michael mentioning that one of their peak sales times was late at night (8.30-10pm). It seems that when people finish reading a book in bed, they then immediately go on to purchase one by the same author.

Ok, guilty as charged! That’s exactly what I do, and I would say that I have increased my book purchases this way just purely by being able to meet the ‘instant gratification’ of purchasing  immediately via the iPad.

So, no late night drives to Kmart for me! I just have to navigate the sometimes very basic search screens on my iPad, and voila, I have what I want, when I want it, with only the time to download.

I want bookshops to survive. I want to support an industry that encourages reading and the love of books. But does it override the convenience factor? Not so far. Admittedly, with two small children in tow everyday I’m not so certain that bookshops want me anywhere near them. Toddlers have a remarkable ability to deconstruct things don’t they? That is definitely part of the reason I don’t get to more bookshops in my day to day life.  But the other part is I don’t NEED to anymore.

I’m booked into attend the ebook seminar being run by The Australian Booksellers Association and I’m keen to know what the concerns of their industry,  how they intend to connect with the consumer in the digital age, how they ensure they have a meaningful future and don’t put aside in favour of ‘instant gratification purchasing’.

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