Whither the Reader
Today I am speaking at the Tools of Change Conference with Angela James and Sarah Wendell. The focus of our talk is what readers want from digital books. Obviously we don’t speak for all readers but we are given an opportunity to share with others in publishing some of the wants and needs of readers. If there was anything that we took away from the survey we ran this past month, it’s that readers want to be heard.
We received over 2700 responses to our survey. Yes, our survey was flawed and incomplete. It is not scientific. Rather it is a compilation of raw data of over 2700 readers giving their opinions on all things from where they buy books to how long they’ve been reading to the thing that they most want to tell publishers.
Very few readers believe that publishers are interested in hearing from them. Over 75% of the respondents felt that publishers did not care about them as ebook readers. This is kind of sad reflection of how disconnected readers feel from the major content providers in the industry.
In a consumer study by Millward Brown, Amazon was recognized as the number one most trusted and most recommended brand in the U.S. The only conversation that readers are having right now is with retailers, whether it is Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple or Google.
There is a real opportunity for publishers to learn from the readers of their books, not just about what readers want to see published but how those books should be published.
The readers of the survey were quite diverse. Over half of the respondents were between the ages of 30-49. The next largest age group was the 18-25 crowd comprising 469 survey responses. The respondents had been reading for a long time. The readers in the survey were not just romance readers. We allowed the respondents to pick as many genres as applied to them. 2156 said that they read SFF and 2095 said that they read romance. Nearly as many, 2038, checked general fiction. Most everyone read either every day or every couple of days.
Nearly 75% bought at least one new book every month with over a quarter admitting to buying 6-10 new books each month. More than half preferred to buy print when given the opportunity with 34.60% preferring to buy ebooks. 46.37% buy online with 43.81% buying at a physical bookstore.
Free promotional offers work. 92.70% have downloaded a free book with 70.44% making a purchased based on that free read.
People commented frequently that DRM was a major impediment to ebook reading and 87.74% wanted multiple device access to their ebooks, something that is prevented with DRM. 96.89% of readers wanted the ability to organize their digital book collection which is yet another something that is difficult to do with the existing software and DRM.
People want the ability to search, sort and organize their ebook collections. They want to be given the opportunity to buy books in the format they prefer, at the store that they prefer, and in the country in which they live.
Many, many readers commented how frustrated they were by geographical limitations. I know it’s something to do with rights but the fact is that readers don’t care. They just want to be able to buy the books that are available to other readers.
I know some people will read this and say that the reader is being entitled or acting as if they want everything. To some extent they do, but why not? Readers expect much but they are also willing to buy. I talked with a couple of O’Reilly media people at the conference this week. I asked them what their philosophy was regarding the fact that they are selling their content DRM free in every format known to ebook readers. The response was that given the opportunity, people will do the right thing.
I definitely see more areas for common ground between readers and publishers. I can’t help but think that if publishers start listening to readers that readers would be more receptive to the publisher message, whatever it may be.