by Dan Balow
The latest data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project released this Fall and confirmed in solid data what we all know to be true…that e-Book readers and tablets are becoming more prevalent in American society.
In a scientific survey conducted five times since May, 2010, the Pew Research Center concluded as of September 2013 that 24% of Americans age 16 and older have a dedicated e-Book reader (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc.) and 35% have a tablet computer (like an iPad, etc.). Furthermore, 43% of those 16+ have one or the other, so a number of people have both.
Compared to the last survey taken in November 2012, this one reveals a 26% increase in ownership of e-Book readers and a 40% increase in ownership of tablets in the last ten months.
So who owns these things anyway?
Slightly more female than male. E-Book readers are owned slightly more by people in the 30-49 age group, but the data shows pretty broad use by all ages. The tablets are strongest with the 16-49 age range, with fully 46% of 16-17 year olds owning one, but 18% of persons age 65+ own a tablet.
Predicting the future is always difficult, but as young people today age, they will continue to use technology more than their predecessors. The most interesting aspect of these surveys is how quickly people age 50+ have adopted these new technologies. People in that group picked up the technology “habit” later in life than those who grew up with it and it has significant use among older Americans.
Of course, children at the youngest ages are being exposed to technology every day in schools with the assumption that it will even more prevalent and important than it is now.
What will happen to printed books?
In general, digital books are less expensive than printed versions. As digital sales grow and physical sales shrink, the cost of printing the physical editions will increase. Two factors contribute to this…lower press runs and increases in paper costs will drive printing costs higher which will need to be compensated for by increasing the retail price of the physical books.
Those higher prices will have a further dampening effect on purchasing, making eBooks and their lower prices even more attractive. So, there is potential for a digital “tipping point” sometime in the next few years, caused not as much by the love of digital content, but by the expanding price difference between print and eBooks.
An even more interesting trend will accelerate the decline of print books…excessively low prices of eBooks. Readers will consider a book “worth” $0.99 and so the printed edition heretofore priced reasonably at $12.99 will be viewed as overpriced.
Authors should be concerned about a trend that lowers the expectations of consumers to a vanishing point. Selling your eBooks at $2.99 or less might give you the short- term satisfaction of higher unit sales, but as far as I can tell, your bills still need to paid in dollars, not units! Training consumers that books cost $0.99 will irreparably damage the entire publishing industry. In other words, what you write is not worth much. Marketing guru Seth Godin refers to this as a “race to the bottom”…a race that no one wins.