The shift from print to mobile reading went into overdrive this holiday season, with ownership of e-readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad doubling in a single month.
A new survey-based study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that the percentage of adults owning tablet computers went from 10% to 19% between mid-December and early January, with the same growth rate seen among black-and-white e-readers like the Kindle.
Source: The Dec. 2011 and Jan. 2012 Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project
So how should content providers and publishers react to this news? As the founder of e-book publishing startup BookBrewer, I live and die by these kinds of numbers, and they’re obviously good for us. But they should serve as a wake-up call for traditional publishers — especially newspapers, magazines and book publishers that still manage their businesses around shrinking print audiences.
LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
The Pew study said tablet and e-reader adoption sped up due to holiday gifting, but it was amped by two new value-priced color tablets: Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s new $249 Nook Tablet, both of which are far below the iPad’s $499-$829 price point. Amazon doesn’t release exact figures on the Kindle Fire, but investment research firm Morgan Keenan recently estimated that Amazon sold 4-5 million Fires over the holidays at the expense of 1-2 million iPads that Apple would have sold absent the Fire.
Also noteworthy in the study is that the sex divide has disappeared — at least for tablets. In November of 2010, 60% of tablet owners were male. Today? It’s at a healthy 50-50 male to female ratio. Curiously, black-and-white e-readers went in the opposite direction, with women now making up 57% of of e-reader owners. (My theory on that based on e-book sales data I’m privy to as the owner of BookBrewer is that romance e-books play a role, but I digress.)
In both cases, people with more education and higher incomes were more likely to own a tablet or e-reader, although the difference was slightly less for e-readers.
So what’s left for the print market? This is a valid question because the contrast in trends for tablets and traditional print couldn’t be more stark. Think about it. In just one month the number of people with a sexy new device that can display books, websites and streaming video doubled. When’s the last time you saw those kinds of figures for mass-market newspapers or magazines?
What’s more, these tablets are generating significant sales from content after very little time on the market. An RBC Capital analyst projects that the brand-new Kindle Fire will make Amazon $100 over the lifetime of the device. The revenue comes directly from sales of e-books, apps and streaming content from Amazon.
Compare that to Pew’s figures on yearly newspaper revenue, which has been going in the opposite direction for some time.
Having been completely out of the newspaper industry for over two years, I see the glass as more than half full, but I keenly remember how it felt to work for a newspaper and feel tied to a tanking business model. That’s partly why I’ve been urging journalists and news organizations to repackage and publish their content as e-books. E-book sales were surging even before the numbers looked this rosy, and they represent a new way to monetize content without advertising.
And here’s the great news there. I now have multiple, solid examples that readers buy e-books about news.
Our first news partner, The Huffington Post, has published several e-books through BookBrewer that quickly moved into the No. 1 spots of their categories — including this latest about the Occupy Wall Street movement. And we’re seeing a similar effect with The Denver Post’s first e-book about Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Based on these successes, we’re openly looking for more news organizations that are ready to jump into the e-book world with both feet, so let me know if that means you or your organization.
WHERE PRINT STILL SHINES
To those of you who mourn the loss of the feel of a printed product in your hand, don’t fret. Print is not completely dead. If you think of the digital revolution as a play, print is going through a wardrobe change.
Here’s just one example. On January 8, we started pre-order sales for the Post’s Tebow book as a Print on Demand paperback through our partner Consolidated Graphics. Even though readers have a choice between e-book and print, we’ve been amazed to see the print orders outpace the e-book orders by a 3-to-1 ratio. The book’s print pre-order sales reached $23,000 in just 10 days, and they show no signs of slowing down.
I heard something similar from the folks at O’Reilly Publishing at a session I ran at their recent NewsFoo camp in Phoenix. Founder Tim O’Reilly told participants that his company sells twice as many e-books from the O’Reilly website than it does directly through Amazon. Those e-book sales are high, but print sales still make up at least half of their business. More and more of those print books are printed on demand from online orders, too.
GIVE INFORMATION CONSUMERS WHAT THEY WANT
Here’s what I see as the broader trend. It’s not the printed book itself that’s dying, but rather the way that books are mass-marketed, shipped to physical book stores, retailed, sold at a loss, and ultimately shipped back to publishers for a refund. (And what does that tell you about my view on daily newspaper delivery? It should be obvious. Stop the insanity! Newspapers should be personalized and on demand, too.)
On the same note, the growth in tablets and e-readers says more about peoples’ desire for convenience and choice than it does about gadget lust.
Information consumers now expect to get whatever they want, whenever they want, in whatever form they choose. Tablets, e-readers and smartphones speak directly to that need, but so does an impulse buy of a printed book that shows up at your doorstep five days later. In fact, more and more of those purchases initiate from smartphones. The need for on-demand, multi-platform publishing — perhaps including an app or two — has never been more important.