eBook Reality vs. Optimism

I am on record as someone who believes the eBook will ultimately rule the waves — until the next “big thing” comes along. Sometimes it’s nice to get a little slap of reality.

A recent study by Bowker and the Book Industry Study Group shows that last year’s eBook growth was, as Laura Hazard Owen points out on mocoNews, “Incremental, Not Exponential.”

  • “The number of book buyers who also purchased an e-book increased by 17 percent in 2011, compared to 9 percent in 2010 – well below the 25 to 30 percent growth that some had hoped for.”
  • “Seventy-four percent of book buyers have never bought an e-book (and 14 percent of those actually own an e-reader or tablet but choose not to use it to read e-books.”

If there is cause for optimism, though, it’s in these two numbers:

  • “E-books now make up 26 percent of adult fiction purchases, compared to 11 percent of children’s book purchases and 3 percent of cookbook purchases.”
  • “Meanwhile, e-book power buyers make up 35 percent of the overall e-book buying population, but they drive 60 percent of overall e-book purchases. In other words, about a third of the overall buyers drive two-thirds of overall purchases.”

The latter figure compares to print power buyers, who make up 22 percent of the overall print book-buying population, and drive 53 percent of print book purchases overall. So there’s some room there for non-power buyers to make a larger overall contribution to eBook sales.

Oh, and the other cause for optimism?

Recent analysis from the esteemed Horace Dediu shows that if the iPad were its own company, it “would be the largest PC vendor.” Dediu adds that the iPad “competes for time and purchase decisions across all computing alternatives and though many times it’s additive, it is also substitutive and will become increasingly so.”

Horace Dediu: Units Shipped (iPad Included)

Although analysts keep saying so, and it remains more promise than reality, I think that other companies will eventually add to the tablet market in ways they haven’t heretofore. Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablets (which they insist on calling slates; they’ll get over it), should be a credible entry in this category, for example.

The takeaway here is that the PC will increasingly look like a tablet. Everything else will look like a truck. As the tablet becomes more ubiquitous, book purchases should follow; hey, you can carry a library on a single device and you can read almost anywhere (not recommended for the bath, but you can take them to bed).

Yeah, ok… Still a long ways to go… One shouldn’t forget those seventy-four percent of book buyers who’ve never purchased an eBook. Or the format and distribution battles that don’t seem likely to end soon. But doesn’t that mean there’s plenty of upside? Doesn’t it?

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