Wednesday, 11 April 2012

42 - Don't Panic

In the latest, and very excellent Pew study on e-readers habits, published here, one fact jumped out at me amongst the data.

42% of people consume ebooks on a computer.

Almost half of all reading of ebooks is done not on Kindles, iPads, iPhones, Android phones, Android tablets or Kindle Fires, but on the humble and ignored PC. It's like there are legions of ebook contrarians going "You know what - the old PC suits me just fine."

But what's really going on here. Maybe 5 things.

1. Tablets/e-readers are expensive. People love free and many of the ebooks read are free, not least the Project Gutenberg collection. If you're in to classic literature, this trove is a godsend and has the benefit of being free. Download the Kindle for PC (or Mac) app and you're good to go. For the thrifty or cautious this route is perfect and good enough.

2. Notebook computers are pretty small too. An 11" MacBook Air is a pretty small device with a great battery life. For the sofa-use that the iPad/K Fire fits in to so well, a tiny notebook PC is a close second in terms of form factor, and you may either have one lying around, or figure picking up a cheap one makes more sense than a dedicated device. And you may well be right.

3. Reading at work. I think Mike Shatzkin picked up on this. In those dog-day afternoons before the bell goes, why not download the Kindle app and sneak a few books on to your work PC, fingers hovering over ALT-TAB in case the boss shows up? 

4. Try before you buy. Downloading an e-reading app is a nice way to try before you buy. If it works for you, you might then take the plunge and get a dedicated device. This is as much about behavioural change as cash. Any books you bought can then just be synced over.

5. Reading wherever you are (ie outdoors or on the train) isn't such a huge deal.

What are the implications of all this though?

The first is that I think there is big pent-up demand for e-readers. Using a PC is definitely a sub-optimal way to read ebooks, but people are putting up with it. The try before you buy brigade will soon start buying, and the price points and choice of devices is falling, which will encourage that.

Screen quality is not such a big deal. Most PC screen are pretty lame, yet people put up with them for reading eBooks.

Apple have nothing to offer for this constituency with iBooks. They can only therefore address a little over half the market. The same survey says only 23% read on tablets (in early 2012 tablets = iPads).

I'd seen Kindle for Windows as a sideshow. It's not.

Consumer behaviour is malleable, but not as plastic as we thought. Print=>PC=>Tablet looks like the progression (assuming dedicated e-readers are not long for this world).

So all the noise over devices has been masking the stories about behaviour. I think we need a "marketing noise" filter in this industry.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Very Personal Business of Publishing

For almost 20 years now I've been developing applications and websites for mainly libraries, museums and galleries. Gun for hire, the usual agency thing - client needs a project done, puts out an invitation to tender, we win the tender, build the app, walk away with a cheque. This is still a big part of our business, and I love this kind of deal: it's a partnership whereby we help our clients to solve problems, and money changes hands to make it happen.

When we started our digital facsimile imprint, eBookTreasures, I knew it would be different, but not like this. It's got very personal.

Because we sell these facsimiles online, we have a slew of data every day, every hour even. Here are the ones I look at most days:
- sales in iTunes Connect (daily and historic, including territories and taking into account present and past promotions)
- chart positions in iTunes (both overall charts and specialty charts)
- Facebook likes and reach
- Twitter follows and retweets
- Google alerts
- email enquiries
- Google analytics for our site

On one hand it's terrific. We can do a promotion and monitor it's effect in near real-time, reach out and tell people what's coming next and see what channels work best for us, what price points and what sorts of books.

But on the other hand it's all suddenly got very personal. 

Books I love don't sell. A new title launches and no-one tweets about it. For no reason, we put on 50 Facebook followers over a weekend. Sales tank or boom. It's all there in hard numbers, the various meters oscillating up and down hour by hour. My mood rising or falling with the numbers ("They like it - how wonderful!", "Facebook's a waste of time...").

The etymology of "publish" is "to make public". Perhaps I should have thought about that before getting in to publishing.