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.