Retail Channel Evolution (and a Plug for SXSW)
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Ebook Survey Results

Numbers Last week we sent a short survey out to customers who had previously bought an ebook from us at O'Reilly.  We gathered more than 2,000 responses in just a few days.  Our goal was to learn more about the buying habits and preferences of customers who are interested in econtent.

The survey featured several multiple-choice and open-ended questions.  I've only had a chance to review the multiple-choice responses, so I'll comment on them below and will follow-up with excerpts and summaries of the open-ended questions later in the week.

1. How often do you read ebooks?
The most popular answer, which about 50% of the respondents selected, was "several times a week."  30% said "daily" and 19% said "rarely".

2. Where are you on the ebook adoption cycle?
The top answer, chosen by a third of the respondents was, "I love ebooks and I'll never go back to print."  The second most popular answer was "I'll love them more when the devices for reading them get better" (24%).

3. Do you buy print and ebooks, or have you made the transition to electronic only?
75% said "print and ebooks", leaving only 25% for e-only.

4. Select the ebook features that matter most to you.
Respondents could make multiple selections on this, but the #1 feature was "portability" (80%) followed by "usability for search/linking" (71%) and "price" (60%).  So despite everyone's fixation on sub-$10 Kindle books and sub-$5 iPhone book apps, price isn't the #1 "feature" for this crowd.  Of course, what people say and how they act are often two different things (see "New Coke").

5. On what device(s) have you read O'Reilly ebooks?
Again, multiple answers could be selected here, but not surprisingly laptops (81%) and desktop computers (60%) were the top two choices.  And although the Kindle often gets a lot of attention as a dedicated econtent device, it's interesting to see that only 14% checked it off here whereas iPhone and iPod Touch were checked by 29% and 12%, respectively.  Ah, the benefits of an enormous installed base!  The Sony Reader was selected almost as often (11%) as the Kindle, btw.  (Note: We sell ebooks as bundles, so in one transaction a customer gets PDF, epub and mobi for the Kindle.)

6. If you chose "iPhone" for #5, how are you reading those ebooks?
Stanza leads the way here at 62% and the Kindle app is a distant #2 at only 16%.  (I'm kind of surprised that so many people own both devices.  I'll bet most are like me and bought the Kindle before the iPhone.  Now that I have the latter I don't use the former quite as much.)

7. Are you committed to the device and platform you're using now, or are you waiting for something better?
One third said they love their reader but the other two-thirds are hoping for something better (do you hear that, Mr. Jobs?).

8. Whenever possible, O'Reilly provides you with three DRM-free electronic formats of each ebook--.PDF, epub, and mobi. Which formats have you used?
Consistent with the earlier point about using the content mostly on a computer, PDF is by far the #1 choice here at 94%.  Again, multiple answers were allowed but epub and mobi are only used by 34% and 20% of respondents.  So although many of us like to focus on the newer devices and formats it's still an Adobe world...for now.

Some of the open-ended questions were "which format do you prefer and why?", "what other publishers are doing innovative work with ebooks?", "what can we do to improve your experience with O'Reilly ebooks","what features should the next generation of ebooks include?" and "based on your experience with O'Reilly ebooks, how do you feel about the price you paid?".

As you can see, those are some pretty meaty questions and most of the 2K+ respondents offered their thoughts, so it's going to take me awhile to read through all of them.  Stay tuned for summary follow-up posts on these...


Ben  Dawe

Handy thumbnail, thanks a lot. Looks like the conversion is there conceptually, just in a mechanical time lag?

Jim Brown

Good information here. You might want to tie that in with two surveys we did recently about ebooks and e-readers.

No doubt, ebooks and epublishing in general is going to rocket in popularity within the next year or so, in particular when ebook reader devices drop under the $150/£100 mark, which they are gradually coming down to now.

Thanks for sharing the e-book information.

I guess a follow-up questions I would have might be: What percentage of your total customer base bought e-books? The statistics you have provided show trends in the way e-book readers think, but if it only applies to a small percentage of total customers, how valuable is it?

Thanks & I always find your posts interesting.

Joe Wikert

Steven, I don't have the answer to your question but I'll see if I can get some info on this. There's no question that ebook penetration is way, way below 100% of the print world, even in the technology space like where we focus though.

Rogert Münzberg

That's some nice figures...thanks for sharing ;-)

It could be interesting though, to hear what kind of Reader Application was used when reading on desktop and laptop..? And also if the Readers where used as a Standalone Desktop Application (like Acrobat/pdf, Digital Edition/ePub, Stanza etc) or as a Browser Online Viewer (like many of the Flash/Flex applications: Scribd, Issuu, GluckButton etc)...?

I'm looking forward to read next chapter.

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