Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kim
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 04:41:20

    Best wishes, Jane, for a successful conference. Looking forward to reading your feedback!

  2. Persephone Green
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 04:55:57

    I would KILL to hear the first, unexpurgated, uncensored replies to the results of your survey among publishers. ;)

  3. RStewie
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 10:17:13

    Is there a conference twitter feed we can subscribe to? I’d LOVE to be able to follow this conversation.

  4. Carolyn Jewel
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 10:37:11

    Great post. Is there any chance that publishers will 1) listen and 2) act to ameliorate any of the pain?

  5. MariaESchneider
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 12:05:03

    Thanks for the survey results! Excellent report and really hope that publishers start to converse with readers. Or even pretend that e-book reader types Matter!

  6. Mike Briggs
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 12:14:30

    Jane, thank you for bringing some real data (even flawed data is useful) to the table. I hope that the publishers listen.

    With publishers jittery about profits and changing markets (not to mention that nasty p-word, which tends to derail discussions), there’s a tendency to circle the wagons, light torches to push back the darkness, and pretend that everything’s going to be alright.

    Over the past year or so, I’ve seen rising hostility between readers and publishers. The authors generally seem to side with the publishers, and the resultant tide of distrust and resentment isn’t healthy for anyone.

    Things NEED to change. The writers, and the publishers, are going to have to show some faith in the readers, and loosen their death-grip on ineffective and intrusive attempts at protection.

    Readers want good books, well edited, delivered in their format of choice. As a reader, I want to own what I buy. It’s hard to own organized electrons anyway, but without DRM at least I can back it up and move it between reading devices freely.

    Without DRM, porting to additional formats becomes much easier, and maybe the costs can come down a notch or two as well.

    Publishing’s current course is a slow fade to black, with increasing anger on both sides. If publishers listen, and deliver what the readers have been asking for, then at least authors and publishers will no longer be at odds with our readers. I’d rather face the scary, uncertain future with our readers solidly at our backs.

  7. Chicklet
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 12:48:46

    Over 75% of the respondents felt that publishers did not care about them as ebook readers.

    Frankly, I don’t think the big publishers care about me as a paper book reader, either. All they care about are the corporate buyers from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and Target.

    It seems like the publishers would do well to see why Amazon was the most trusted brand name in the Millward Brown study.

  8. Estara
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 14:06:37

    Good luck with the presentation, have fun with your co-speakers and I’m sure you’ll let us know your impressions of how it went down.

  9. Kaetrin
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 17:34:18

    @ Jane @ Mike Briggs @Chicklet

    Hear Hear!

  10. Jessica Andersen
    Feb 24, 2010 @ 15:20:30

    LOL- I’m feeling very average at the moment, as my survey responses were smack with the majority across the board. Hope the talk went/is going great!

  11. Ros
    Feb 24, 2010 @ 17:30:30

    The question of rights and geographical limitations is one that really, really winds me up. If I were a publisher, I would be insisting that all my new and current authors signed contracts giving me global rights to their ebooks. Oh look, problem solved. I agree, it may be trickier with some back catalogue books where rights have already been sold in other countries, but for new books, there should be no difficulty. In fact, if you’re an author with multiple publishers in multiple countries, this could be a great bargaining tool. Insist on selling global ebook rights and see who will bid highest.

  12. MariaESchneider
    Feb 26, 2010 @ 11:44:59

    @Ros: I think part of the problem with “insisting” on global rights is that many authors today make more money by selling the foreign rights separately–because the publisher may or may not want them depending on how the book does in the first country it is sold. I’m not arguing your point–it needs to be global for erights; the problem is: Are publishers willing to pay for that right upfront–and do something with them???

    If these same publishers don’t want to sell ebooks very bad, they don’t believe they have incentive to pay for the rights (and or use them by making the book available.)

    Personally, I agree that for the ebook world, global is the only way to go, but first authors and publishers have to think along new lines of profitability.

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