There are one or two traditionalists still stubborn enough to claim that ebooks will never catch on, but mostly we’ve moved on from there. I am quite often reproached by colleagues that I am anti-book. They are of course wrong (would I write all this stuff if that was true?), and their reaction to my willingness to confront the possibility of a future wildly different from the one we all know and love is no doubt a perfectly understandable basis for their reaction. Sitting around saying “print books are better” is not going to have any effect on what it is the world eventually decides it wants. Recognizing that many of us could be out of a job quite soon should be a valuable first step to taking control of our careers and rejigging our skill-sets. Denying things just won’t make them not happen. Ebooks continue to gain acceptance in the marketplace. On 5 April 2012 “Brave New World”, the blog of the Booksellers Association of UK & Ireland brings us this report:

We know that readers are reading more ebooks in the US, but now new research gives us some interesting insights into their behaviour and their use of digital and physical content. Some 30% of those that read econtent claim that that they now read longer, with some 41% of tablet readers and 35% of ereaders readers claiming to be reading more. The research claims one-fifth of American adults (21%) have read an e-book in the past year, which is an increase of some 4% on those who, in December, claimed to have read an e-book in the previous year. This is probably understandable given the amount of devices that were received as presents over the Holiday and Christmas period.
Is it surprising that those who read ebooks, read more books than those who don’t have devices? One would assume that those who have bought the devices would have done so to read and therefore would be readers, and gifts would be probably given to people who are known readers, so it’s not surprising that they have used the devices and even have read more as they go through their early adoption phase. The figures make one assume the survey demographic chosen are heavy readers, but the figures given are that the survey included readers who had read; only 1 book (8%), 2-3 books(17%), 4-5 books(16%), 6-10books (19%), 11-20 books(18%) and over 20 books (22%).
The first interesting point is that that those of who read an e-book in the past 12 months, some 42%, did so on a computer. This compared to those who used an ebook reader (43%), a smartphone (29%) and a tablet (23%). This issue is however is whether the high level of computer reading is down to transition and adoption of new devices and if it was consistent over the full year.
The next interesting point claimed by the research was that some 88% of those who read an e-book also read a printed book. Of those surveyed, 14% claim to have read both printed books and e-books. Overall, over the year, 72% of adults surveyed read a print book, 21% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.
The research also looked at the reading behaviour and why readers read ebooks. Again we could suggest that 2011 was a transient year in the US and although the research claims book readers are more likely buy their most recent books (48%), rather than borrowed them (24%), or loan them from a library (14%), we have yet to see the real loan, rental and alternatives such as ‘on demand models’ in the market. DRM still remains a borrowers and consumer nightmare and today will constrain borrowing. However, it was interesting that those how read both physical and digital books preferred e-books when they sought convenience to buy quickly, when travelling or commuting and when they wanted to review a wide range of titles. As for that favourite reading place the result was split with 45% prefer reading e-books in bed, while 43% prefer print.
Book recommendations clearly should be a wake-up call for all those that believe that we are still in a mass market community. The vast majority, some 81% of ereader and tablet owners, get recommendations from ‘friends and family’. This also applies to non ereaders surveyed (64%) too. On line bookstores and web sites were high influencers with 56% and 28% respectively but physical bookstores and libraries had far less influence (31% vs 23%) and 21% vs 19%) respectively. Social networking and usage of friends and family is an obvious pivotal key for all.
The main reasons given by those who do not own ereaders and tablet devices are; they don’t need or want one, they can’t afford one, they have enough digital devices already, or they prefer printed books. Not exactly rocket science but confirms what we probably already knew. The survey found that 19% owned a reader and same number owned a tablet but it didn’t identify how many owned both. Of the tablets 61% were iPad and 14% Kindle Fire 14% with the Nook only registering 1%. Of the reader devices Kindle were 62%, Nook 22% and Kobo and Sony only 1% and 2% respectively. Of the adults who did not own a tablet 10% plan to buy one in the next six months and a further 8% eventually, whilst 8% who don’t have an ereader plan to purchase in next 6 months and 5% eventually. This would indicate that there is still significant device growth and that Amazon is very well positioned in both segments to achieve further growth in the US. What it clearly says also is that the device battles are clearly down to Apple versus Amazon today. How that may shift over time will be interesting to watch and also what happens with the great unread will be even more interesting to monitor.
It was a pity that the question of DRM appears to have not been covered, along with the question of perceived ownership versus licence and the lack of ‘first sale doctrine’. These are perceived consumer issues and this would have been a great opportunity to gauge consumer perception.
Finally, the survey also claims that although econtent is relatively easy to find, 23% of those who read ebooks, digital newspapers, magazines, etc. can’t find what they are looking for or its not available in the format they require it. Although the detail is somewhat ambiguous the message should be noted.
The research may not be news to many but what is important is that we monitor these social changes in reading habits and understand the market trends.
The research was prepared by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for the PEW Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project and the Gates Foundation. The project was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here’s a chart taken from that same research, brought to us by Business Insider also on 5 April as their Silicon Alley Insider Chart of the Day. They entitle the chart “The Death of Printed Books” which hints at what they make of the information in it! Of course one survey is just one survey and results can change over time. But do we really think things are ever going to swing back to favor the printed book over the ebook?

Ebooks are real, and no amount of head-in-sand-burying is going to make them go away. The reading experience today is not anything like what it will become in a few years. The improvements will make the ereading experience overwhelmingly superior to turning pages in a printed book. I fear that however much some of us may love a well-printed book, the fact that ebooks are and will always be cheaper to produce means that the print book will eventually be squeezed out. I bet there were lots of people in the 15th century saying that these new-fangled print books would never take the place of a beautifully hand-written volume, but of course the scribes rapidly lost out to the more efficient print medium. Yes, you can still get a book copied by hand, but it will cost you so much that few people can afford to pursue that hobby. Cheapness and convenience will always win out.

The most thoughtful piece I’ve found yet about the difference between the experience of reading an ebook and a printed book is from The Technium. It’s well worth reading.