What's going on with readers today?

You might recall an article from our TOC site a few months ago that asked the question, "What do readers want?". It was a call for publishing types to submit questions that Goodreads could ask their members. Your questions ultimately formed the basis of the Goodreads member survey.

I was fortunate enough to join Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler on stage for his presentation of the survey results at TOC NY a couple of weeks ago. The presentation featured a good deal of Q&A between Otis, myself and the audience, making it one of the most interesting sessions I've recently sat in on. I wanted to highlight a few of the more noteworthy takeaways from it in this article. The entire deck is embedded below, so you'll want to flip through it as you read my commentary.

Slide #6 -- As an industry we've long wondered just how influential social media is for book discovery. Take a peek at this slide and you'll see, at least for the two titles in question, the answer is "not very influential." Facebook and Twitter both fall well below most other forms of discovery while the timeless option of a friend's recommendation (presumably outside of Facebook) still ranks at the top.

Slide #9 -- If a friend is best for discovery it stands to reason that they'll also influence you to actually read a book. That's exactly what this slide shows. Even Amazon's powerful review platform only ranks in the bottom half of these choices. Also, note how low both "book blurb" and "cover" rank here. Even though those blurbs typically end up in the online description for the catalog page it makes you wonder just how influential they are.

Slide #21 -- Still in denial about whether ebooks are read on mobile phones? Almost 40% of cell phone owners read ebooks on them for all the typical reasons, but mostly while commuting or stuck in line. (Btw, how do your books render on a mobile phone? You might want to check into that...)

Slide #25 -- 73% of ebook readers shop around for the best price. So that would imply they're willing to buy from different retailers, either using different devices or apps on a tablet. More on that in slide 26.

Slide #26 -- OK, here's the most fascinating slide in the entire deck, IMHO. It more or less destroys the notion that platform lock-in is a problem. How else can you explain that 18% of Kindle ebook readers also read via iBooks and 15% also read Nook books? The other charts on this slide show just how much crossover there is going in the other direction. So not only is the e-reading lock-in problem overrated, it's also clear there's quite a bit of reading happening on tablets rather than dedicated e-readers.

Slides #27 and #28 -- These two should be a wake-up call for anyone in marketing. When they get to the end, a whopping 83% of readers want to see what else the author has written. But, as slide #28 shows, we don't exactly make it easy for our customers to discover and purchase that next book. 


Why B&N should abandon hardware

The ebook retailing business consists of three elements: hardware, content, and selling model. Dedicated e-readers (think eInk devices) are losing momentum to tablets. Content is mostly quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions, or "paper under glass", if you will. The typical selling model is to buy one ebook at a time. Pretty simple. And not a whole lot of innovation happening in any of the three areas by the major players.

Recently there's been speculation that B&N is about to ditch the hardware part of their Nook business and focus instead on content and licensing. If true, that's probably the wisest thing I've heard from Riggio & Co. in a long time. Hardware has been, and will increasingly become more of, a fool's game for B&N.

They can't possibly steal Apple's mojo, so why try? I'll bet more people are reading B&N ebooks on an iPad or iPhone than they are on the Nook tablets.

On the Amazon side, B&N simply doesn't have deep enough pockets to lose money on both hardware and ebooks as long as Bezos can, so it's time to cut bait. Plus, Amazon's goal is to turn the Kindle Fire into a gateway for purchasing much, much more than ebooks. Amazon has a significantly larger product catalog outside of books, so Amazon can afford to lose money on the device if they make it up on the sale of electronics and other goods B&N doesn't sell.

So if B&N completely gets out of the hardware business what can they do to compete in the ebook world? Think app functionality, reader experience, and content sales model.

Today's e-reader apps have pretty much the same functionality as yesterday's. There's basically no innovation happening with the user experience in any of these apps, whether they come from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.

Now is the time for B&N to shift all those resources they have in hardware onto the team that develops their Nook apps. What features are customers asking for? More importantly, what features have readers never even envisioned but would love to have? Channel Steve Jobs. We were all pretty content with our MP3 players back in 2000 and then in 2001 the iPod hit the scene. What a game-changer. What will be the "iPod moment" for e-reading apps?

And while they're working on that, be bold and work with publishers to develop some genre-specific, all-you-can-eat, ebook subscription programs. Romance is a good place to start but look at other verticals as well. What kind of package would compel customers to pay a subscription rate of $5 or $10 per month? They'll need to find the publishers who are willing to experiment here but that's why you focus on just one genre to start and build a success story to create others down the road.

At the end of the day B&N should continue to let Apple, Google, et al, distribute their Nook apps. They don't need to lose any more money selling devices that are viewed as commodities. They should instead focus on dramatically changing the reading experience and content acquisition model. After all, once hardware is eliminated, those are the only two other elements of ebook retailing that matter.


HTML5: The code to maximizing revenue

Have you heard all the hype about HTML5 but you’re still not sold on it? You need to read the latest whitepaper from SPi Global. It’s called HTML5: The Code to Maximizing Revenue and it does a terrific job explaining why this technology is so important. The document is only 7 pages long but it will give you a solid foundation. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from the whitepaper:

Abandoning the “walled garden” environment of downloaded applications also has distinct SEO advantages, because only one set of search criteria is needed to make content discoverable across platforms.

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The slow pace of ebook innovation

I love this comment from Dave Bricker regarding an earlier post, EPUB 3 facts and forecasts:

Ebook vendors enjoy a closed loop ecosystem. They have millions of reader/customers who are satisfied with EPUB 2 display capabilities and devices. Amazon readers, for example, are largely content with the offerings in the proprietary Kindle store; they’re not lining up with torches and pitchforks to push for improvements. While publishers wait for eReader device manufacturers to add new features and EPUB 3 support, eBooksellers are just as happy to wait.

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TOC’s Global Ebook Market report

One year ago we published the first edition of our Global Ebook Market report. We focused on the major English language territories but also featured coverage of several other popular languages as well.

A lot has changed in the past year so we recently published a completely revised edition of the report. You’ll find it here. The good news it’s totally free, both in terms of cost and DRM. :-) It’s also available in all the popular formats (PDF, EPUB, and mobi), so you’ll be able to read it on any device you own.

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Three questions for…Kevin Franco of Enthrill

1. Enthrill has a distribution program that puts ebooks into brick-and-mortar outlets. Doesn’t this seem counter-intuitive?

We’re in the business of selling books, brick & mortar stores are still the number one seller of books, so being there is completely intuitive.

No doubt, the easiest way to purchase an ebook is by using the ‘shop’ button on your ereading device. We’re not intending to change that at all. But the online model is flawed in some respects as it diminishes discoverability. Although being addressed through many metadata solutions, online discovery will never be as good as the tactile, visual discovery that physical retail stores can provide through merchandising and product placement in high traffic retail outlets.

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Three questions for…Christophe Maire of txtr

1. Ebook adoption in Europe is lagging what we’ve seen in the U.S. What do you feel should be done to increase demand in Europe: Better reading devices, lower prices, something else?

There is no doubt that the demand is here. European consumers are just as keen on ebooks as the rest of the world! The primary driver is the distribution of attractive devices and competitive services. We have not seen a consistent push, like for B&N’s Nook, in Europe yet – so there is a lot of room for growth and new players have a chance too (i.e. mobile operators, etc.).

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Publishing's "open" future

If I had to summarize the future of publishing in just one word, I’d say “open.” We’re living in a very closed publishing world today. Retailers use tools like digital rights management (DRM) to lock content, and DRM also tends to lock customers into a platform. Content itself is still largely developed in a closed model, with authors writing on their word processor of choice and editors typically not seeing the content until it’s almost complete. Then we have all the platforms that are closed from one another; have you ever tried reading a mobi file from Amazon in an EPUB reader, for example?

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Three questions for…Jason Illian of BookShout

1. What is BookShout and what makes it unique?

BookShout is a unique type of ereader that allows for sharing and discoverability. In other words, the “social” tools are built into the ereader so that users can either actively or passively share the books with which they are most passionate, increasing unit sales and notoriety. Not only can readers share notes and thoughts to other BookShout users, but they can also share them out to Facebook and Twitter.

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Gamechangers: Two important announcements at TOC Frankfurt

It’s after midnight here in Frankfurt but I’ve got to give a quick shout-out to two of the most innovative announcements at today’s TOC Frankfurt. First up, txtr and their Beagle device. Watching txtr CEO Christophe Maire introduce the Beagle today reminded me of a post I wrote more than two years ago where I suggested that Amazon should offer an extremely inexpensive Kindle with no wifi or 3G and just have it connect to your cellphone to purchase content.

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