Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Media Democracy B-Side - eReaders and eBooks

Deloitte’s 6th annual State of the Media Democracy report was released today. There is so much data in the survey that to discuss it all would take a novel, so over the next couple of days I’ll try to provide some insights and perspectives into subjects that didn’t make the cut. A Media Democracy B-Side, if you will. First up, eReaders, via media favourites and device ownership.

Deloitte's UK consumer survey shows that professional media, be it on TV, in print or on the radio, is as popular as ever. 50% of respondents said that TV was their favourite type of media and despite falling circulations, 40% rated newspapers in their top 3 (although only 6% placed it #1). TV and print adverts were also rated as massively more impactful than online and social equivalents and after search are the principal way in which consumers discover websites.

A desire to access content from traditional channels on non-traditional formats may be driving uptake of consumer technology. We estimate that the average UK consumer has 9.7 devices and that the gap between male and female ownership is narrowing. Male respondents had 10 devices on average, females had 9.4. New categories like eReaders and tablets had great years. If our survey respondents are indicative of the UK population, then we estimate that there are 3 million tablets and 5 million eReaders in circulation.

The latter may seem a surprisingly large number as the eReader is a particularly specialised device and time spent reading almost certainly lags newspaper, TV and radio consumption. My view is that the cost of eReaders make them easy purchases either as gifts (gifting has also driven DAB radio uptake, despite the devices being relatively infrequently used) or as lifestyle options – the “if I buy this I’ll read more” psychology. Running contrary to that theory is the fact that women, although they own less technology than men, are more likely to own an eReader. 17% more women than men said that they own one.

Cynicism over consumer motivations aside, eReaders do seem to be driving to acquire and consumer more books. 50% people who owned an eReader said that they bought more books in digital format than they had done in print and 50% said that they read more because of eReaders. Even so, 41% also admitted that they bought more eBooks than they could read, suggesting that overflowing bookshelves and over-ambitious readers are as common in the digital world as in the physical.

Data published yesterday by
Harris Interactive shows similar behaviour in the US. 29% of people using an eReader say they typically read more than 20 books in an average year, while 21% say they read between 11 and 20 books 24% read between 6 and 10 books. So, almost 75% of eReader users are reading 6 or more books in an average year. Conversely, 60% of non eReader users are reading 5 or fewer books on average in a year. Their results for younger audiences aren’t conclusive, but I imagine education publishers will be very interested to see whether an eReader device could be used to drive increased (or at least continued) consumption of paid-for text books and study guides.

In terms of purchase, the Harris study mirrors Deloitte’s with 41% of their 2056 respondents purchasing more than 11 books a year. One thing that we will ask next year for clarification is whether readers are actually paying for those books. Many fantastic out of copyright classics are available on eReader platforms for free that it could be that consumption is up, but revenues will ultimately go down.


To date, eBook business models have been relatively conventional. Purchase and now public libraries in some UK districts are the most prevalent options for content acquisition. I believe that there is also a great opportunity for the publishing industry to create a differentiated “Spotify for books” service that offers the curation of a bookshop with the ease of use of eBooks and simplicity of a subscription payment. A few of these services exist today, for example
24symbols, which launched last year. There have also been rumours that Spotify itself intends to diversify beyond music and into other forms of media. With TV and film streaming already clogged with competitors, perhaps books would be a logical next step.

Finally on eBooks, smartphones and tablets do seem to be having some effect on the use of eReaders. 13% of respondents who owned both a smart device and an eReader said that they had stopped using the latter because of the former. Fortunately for the eReader manufacturers, most of them offer a tablet and/ or smartphone experience as well and content that is portable between the two devices, meaning that stickiness to the eBook ecosystem should transcend the physical device.

So, a good year for eReaders and eBooks and perhaps also good signs for the publishing industry. For the record, I don’t own an eReader and I do have a groaning bookshelf...

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