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February 29 2012

The ebook evolution

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the final piece in a series taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.


Discussions about the future of digital and how ebooks and ereading may evolve permeated nearly every aspect of this year's show. From data on how readers are acquiring and consuming ebooks to genres that are working well — and those that aren't — to platform and format trends and predictions, the evolution of ebooks and ereading was probably the most pervasive of the major themes at TOC 2012.

Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, and Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at RR Bowker, led the "Data for Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session. They presented data on how consumers are adopting and consuming ebooks.

An interesting slide provided a visualization of the technology adoption curve in the U.S. between 1910 and 1999:

BISGslide1

The text may not be readable, but the message is clear — as explained in the presentation:

"The X axis is time, the Y axis is percent penetration of U.S. households. The squiggly blue line all the way to the left is the telephone. The two red lines in the middle are television and color television. You can see in the case of almost every technology, a slow ramp up, followed by explosive growth leading to almost total penetration. When utility surpasses earlier technologies and when production capacity increases and cost decreases to a sufficient point, the line curves up."

They then compared this to what is happening with ebooks. Some genres followed the exploding path while others flattened out. Fiction clearly is leading the ebook evolution at this point:

BISGSlide2

The ebook questions in 2012, they said, will include how much more growth in fiction is possible, when will the other genres get moving and what kind of role is technology actually playing in adoption. The presentation also included data about ebook power buyers, the patterns of buying in general and the roles children and youths might play in the future of ebooks.

The slides, along with a transcript of the presentation, can be found here.

Michael Tamblyn, executive vice president of content, sales and merchandising at Kobo, Inc., specifically addressed digital non-fiction — or the lack thereof — in the "Cracking the Non-fiction Code" session. Tamblyn noted that the split in fiction/non-fiction print is about 55/45, respectively, but that in digital, even after several years in, the fiction/nonfiction divide is "abysmal":

TamblynSlide1

Tamblyn talked about the reasons behind the discrepancy and looked at the percent to which digital over or under indexes print consumption:

TamblynSlide2

Looking at the reasons behind the inequalities, Tamblyn said there are some commonsense reasons — the gift economy around children's books, for example, skews toward physical, print books, as do juvenile categories in libraries — but that there are other reasons why genres such as travel, reference and cooking are indexing more toward print than digital. These publishing areas, for instance, have the added component of free online competitors, such as TripAdvisor.com and AllRecipes.com.

He highlighted the non-fiction pricing versus unit sales, which indicates that, so far, "digital non-fiction is a backlist business, to a degree far greater than what we see on the fiction side":

TamblynSlide3

Tamblyn said he's been encouraging publishers "to start digging into that backlist non-fiction catalog, get more of those title made more quickly ... get those rights cleared and get those books out — they have a longer life than you may think."

He also said there are great opportunities around the gift economy in children's books — that the gifts are shifting from physical books to reading devices, indicating digital opportunities going forward and explaining a spike in ebook sales after the holidays. He suggested developing a reading device specifically for children to optimize the reading experience for that level may help push adoption forward.

Tamblyn's session slides can be found here, and more from Tamblyn on what ereader customers want can be viewed in this TOC webcast.

The ebook evolution discussion took a turn toward the technical side in a video interview with Peter Meyers, author of “Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience” and "Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual." He tackled a question about ebooks versus book apps and whether the forms would merge or one would become dominant:

"I think a lot of people in the industry get hung up on this question of what's the term we're going to use going forward. If we look at the music industry, the terms 'record' and 'album' have stuck around, even as the physical format has largely disappeared. I think the word 'book' is here to stay ... I think the other term likely to emerge is 'app' ... We'll start saying, 'Hey, have you seen the new Stephen King app?' That app might include book-like elements, but it will also be able to accommodate things like interactive features ... I would guess we'll see books and apps coexist side by side, and they'll do different things."

Meyers also talked about how digital is changing publishing over all, that with the infinite canvas of digital publishing, what publishers really are selling is 10, 15, 20 hours of entertainment or assistance in cooking or playing golf. His entire interview can be viewed here.

Sameer Shariff, founder and CEO of Impelsys, agreed in a video interview that ebooks and book apps would both continue as separate products. He also addressed a question about platforms and how the need for conversion will evolve:

"What we're seeing is [that the need for conversion] is not going to dissipate ... [publishers] can't do it themselves ... Now the big thing is EPUB3, and with the Apple iBookstore, there's a new format there. It's not going to be completely automated — there is going to be some element of manual intervention."

Shariff's entire interview can be viewed here.

Along that same line, Sanders Kleinfeld, publishing technologies specialist at O'Reilly, tackled the question of whether or not the industry will see a universal format emerge:

"I'm really optimistic, and I really hope so. I think that's what they're striving for with the EPUB3 standard, which is based around all these open technologies — HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. I'm hopeful that ereaders will follow suit with what's been happening on the web, where you can build an HTML5 website and there's pretty good compatibility across the board, whether you're looking at it in Google Chrome or Safari or Firefox. I'm really optimistic that EPUB3, or the next generation — maybe EPUB4, will be the open standard that re-flowable ebooks will coalesce around using open technologies and that that will be supported by the various ereaders."

You can view Kleinfeld's entire interview in the following video, and you can see slides from his session "HTML5 for Publishers" here:

For more on the ebook evolution discussion, sessions with published slides and/or video can be browsed here.


If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


Related:

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January 13 2012

A study confirms what we've all sensed: Readers are embracing ereading

The recently released Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) showed impressive growth in ereading. From October 2010 to August 2011, the ebook market share more than tripled. Also notable, readers are committing to the technology, with almost 50% of ereading consumers saying they would wait up to three months to read a new ebook from a favorite author rather than reading the same book immediately in print.

In the following interview, BISG's deputy executive director Angela Bole reviews some of the study's data and addresses growing trends in ereading.

Bole will further examine the study's results — including data from the new third volume — at the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

Are readers embracing ereading?

AngelaBole.jpgAngela Bole: When the first survey in volume two of BISG's "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" was fielded in October 2010, the market share for ebooks was less than 5%. In the latest fielding, conducted in August 2011, the market share was almost 16%. Clearly, readers are embracing ereading. The greatest interest today seems to lie in narrative fiction and nonfiction, with interest in more interactive nonfiction and education taking longer to develop.

How are most readers consuming e-books?

Angela Bole: In the October 2010 and January 2011 survey fieldings, there were two distinct categories of ereaders — tablets like the iPad and dedicated devices like the Kindle — with a wide functionality difference between them. During the May 2011 and August 2011 fieldings, the NOOK Color and many new Android-based tablets were released, and distinctions between device categories began to blur. Even so, dedicated ereaders remain the favorite ebook reading device for book lovers, especially for reading fiction and narrative nonfiction. The Kindle, in particular, remains strong.

DeviceGraph.jpg
A graph illustrating responses to the study question, "What device do you now use most frequently to read e-books?"

What are the most popular genres for ebooks?

Angela Bole: This depends to a degree on whether you're a "tablet person" or a "dedicated ereader person." Data from the Consumer Attitudes survey shows that the Kindle and NOOK are the preferred devices of survey respondents in all fiction categories, while tablets like the iPad hold the edge in nonfiction categories. In these reports, the data have suggested that dedicated ereaders may be better optimized for narrative reading, while the richer media capabilities of tablets may be more appropriate for nonfiction, education, and scientific and professional titles.

GenreGraph.jpg
A graph illustrating responses to the study question, "What genre(s) do you like to read, overall (in any format)?"

Do people typically buy ebooks on their computers and then transfer them to their devices?

Angela Bole: Until August 2011, our data showed that the computer (desktop or laptop) was the prevailing purchasing platform. Today, however, more and more people are purchasing directly on their dedicated ereaders — 49% of respondents to the August 2011 fielding, up from 36% in May 2011.

Does the research point to digital publishing helping or hurting the publishing industry?

Angela Bole: Consumers who migrate to digital are spending less on physical hardcover and paperback books. The research supports this out quite clearly. That said, respondents to the survey actually report increasing their overall dollar spending as they make the transition to ebooks. Almost 70% of the respondents to the August 2011 fielding reported increasing their ebook expenditures, compared with 49% in the October 2010 fielding. Respondents reported increased spending on books in all formats to a greater degree than they reported decreased spending. Assuming the publishing industry can develop the right business models, this is good news.

This interview was edited and condensed.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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October 10 2011

TOC Frankfurt launches with a global ebook market survey

The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future ProjectionsTools of Change (TOC) and O'Reilly Media have released a new white paper, "The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future Projections." Using the United States and United Kingdom as benchmarks, the study, commissioned through Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting, provides a broad survey of emerging ebook markets across Europe, Brazil and China.

Using actual data rather than forecasts, the study examines how the main drivers of digital change in the publishing industry impact those markets, taking into account local factors and the unique defining traits of each market — from market sizes to tax and pricing regimes to cultural choices.

Highlights from the study results include:

Ebook pricing — In most of Europe, ebook pricing is fixed. "Publishers usually set the retail price, and competition in books is not driven by pricing." Taking a look at average pricing shows a clear discrepancy between the US/UK and France/Germany:

Ebook Pricing Table
Average prices, in euros, for the top 10 fiction bestsellers in the US, first week of September 2011. (Sources: Publishers Weekly, The Bookseller/Nielsen, Livres Hebdo/Ipsos, and Der Spiegel/buchreport.)

The study says pressure on average pricing is bound to increase "as books are currently migrating beyond the traditional book trade to general retail channels, for example, those rooted in electronics and entertainment, like Redcoon, and as nontraditional business models arise, like subscription models or Amazon's alleged rental model."

Perceptions of digital — Google's efforts to scan and digitize copyrighted works "has resulted in the identification of the digitization of books, most broadly, as an assault on book culture and on fair compensation for intellectual property." Moreover, "'Digital' has been broadly identified with 'illegal' or at least 'unfair' use of the cultural stock, first in Germany and France, and then over time in many parts of continental Europe. In the context of an ever broader concern about digital information technologies, surveillance, and the loss of privacy, ebooks hit continental Europe at a moment when 'digital' or 'e' reading is considered to be a threat to citizens' freedom and Europe's difficult stand in a globalizing world."

Products versus license — Legal issues and regulations factor strongly in ebook market conditions. The value-added tax (VAT) in Europe is a good example. "In several European countries, book prices are regulated and are subject to reduced VAT, yet these regulations do not automatically apply to ebooks ... The problem with the VAT is that, according to the European Commission, books are considered to be products, but in the case of ebooks, the consumer is acquiring a license. This difference results in significant surcharges for ebooks and discrimination of ebooks versus printed books."

Expected growth versus perceived impact — "In 2015 in Germany, ebook penetration of between 10 and 15% of the book market is conceivable; this number is considerably lower — around 8 to 10% — for Italy or Spain ... Interestingly, when asked [in a questionnaire] if ebooks will have a relevant impact on retailers and publishers by 2015, a much broader consensus is expressed that this is most likely; hence, this anticipation is seen independent from the actual market share of ebooks."

Download "The Global eBook Market" report for free here.

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