Digital Book World: Closing the Discovery Gap

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On Thursday, January 17, at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo, e-book experts gathered to discuss the tremendous growth of the e-book industry and to analyze where the market may be heading. Among the topics put forth at the morning sessions on Thursday were a discussion on how Kobo is helping independent bookstores reach the e-book market and a look at consumers’ attitudes toward e-books and how they’ve changed over the course of just a few years.

Kobo: Helping Indies Reach E-Book Market

Michael Tamblyn, chief content officer of Kobo, which has more than 10 million registered users worldwide, discussed his company’s work with independent bookstores around the world to reach the e-book marketplace. He said that, initially, the Canadian-based company had focused on bringing e-books to “190 countries,” noting that Kobo moved from country to country, and chain to chain. Still, for Kobo one question persisted, and that was how to bring e-books to the indie bookstore market.

“So we picked up the phone to Oren Teicher, CEO at [the American Booksellers Association],” Tamblyn said. “Of course, the question was, if Google couldn’t do it, why would Kobo be any better?” He stressed that Kobo didn’t want to be part of an e-book solution that didn’t work — indies needed a “complete e-book offering.” It had to be e-readers, apps, social reading, and tablets. “People go into a bookstore because they want to see and hold a book. So these people are most likely to buy an e-reader when someone puts it in their hands.” Moreover, he said, it was crucial that the bookstore had to keep a relationship with the consumer once the device was purchased.

Ultimately, Kobo and ABA crafted a solution that they believed would work for indies. In late August, the two companies announced their new partnership to bring Kobo’s eReading platform to independent bookstores across the U.S.. Under the agreement, all ABA members can offer their customers a full line of Kobo eReaders, eReading accessories, and eBooks from the company’s catalog of nearly three million titles. Participating ABA member bookstores share in the revenue on every sale.

In addition, the program includes training for booksellers and in-store merchandising, as well as marketing, sales, and logistics support.

 “How is the indie e-book [customer] different from a regular Kobo customer?” Tamblyn asked. “They buy more expensive books.” They also buy fewer self-published and backlist titles. Indie bookstore eBook customers purchased 14 percent more nonfiction books, he reported. They buy fewer religious titles, and more literary and narrative titles, too.

Tamblyn noted that a growing number of indie stores are now very good at providing a good in-store eReader experience for their customers. Once such store is Powell’s, a store that decided to “go all in,” he said, “with kiosks and their own environmental signage. They’ve had a very good return as a result.”

Overall, Tamblyn said that it’s important to note that book-loving traditionalists are just starting to go digital. He noted that Kobo believes it is important to work with indies in the e-book market because “indies are the smart, fast-moving mammals. And if the e-book is an asteroid hitting the earth, we feel that indies are the most likely to adapt and come out the other side.”

Consumer Attitudes and Trends

Bowker General Manager Sharon Lubrano discussed the company’s report “The Book Consumer in 2012,” which looks at key market metrics and, she said, “how ‘e’ is changing everything.” For the report, Bowker surveyed 6,000 unique U.S. book buyers via an online questionnaire. The data was gathered from January 2012 through September 2012.

Some key metrics regarding book-buyers and books in 2012:

●     60 percent of book buyers were female;

●     60 percent were educated to degree level;

●     A third were earning more than $75K per year;

●     51 percent were married, while 32 percent had children in the household; and

●     28 percent were age 55+.

In regards to purchasing behavior, “in-store display was a key awareness factor for printed books, but personal recommendations were top for e-books,” Lubrano reported. And while topic and subject were vital for those acquiring a physical book, author was tops for digital purchases. “And 22 percent of books were bought on pure impulse,” she noted.

In addition, Lubrano reported, “Over a quarter of all books were bought through, accounting for 30 percent of all dollars spent.”

Lubrano also discussed the impact of Borders closing and said that, of all retailers, has benefitted the most from the closure, and she pointed out that the dollars spent in Borders stores have “shifted online.” While garnered some 27 percent of those expenditures, “other bookstores” received 15 percent.

To download “The Book Consumer in 2012” go to

Following Lubrano, Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), focused on the e-book frequent purchaser, or “Power Buyer,” respondents who acquire — for free or purchased — at least one e-book per week.

The data Vlahos used was culled from BISG’s “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” study.  “There are two things that make this study special,” Vlahos said. “First, this is specifically a survey of e-book readers. Each respondent has acquired at least one e-book in the last 18 months. This is not the general population; we’re studying how e-book readers behave. Second, we started this project in 2009. I don’t know of any other study that has this much trend data.”

The Power Buyer resembles the general book buyer in that they are likely to be female, whose ages fall between 30 – 42, and are disproportionately urban. “With a few exceptions, the e-book Power Buyer increasingly resembles the general book buyer,” Vlahos noted. “This is the first of many signs that the e-book market is maturing and settling down.”

Not surprisingly, respondents to a survey of e-book readers and purchasers are more likely to say that they now either exclusively or mostly purchase e-books as opposed to print books.

As for a preferred device for reading e-books, the BISG data show clearly that “Amazon dominates this space,” Vlahos stated. The Kindle eReader represented about 35 percent of the share, with the Kindle Fire gaining, at just under 20 percent.

Vlahos pointed out that Power Buyers still drive much of the e-book market. He added that the longer a buyer is in the market, the more predictable the buyer becomes.

Overall, “if you take away one thing from this data, it would be that the market is maturing,” Vlahos said. “We are seeing more and more predictable behavior. Does that mean growth has stopped or that more changes aren’t in the offing?  No, of course not. It simply means we’re moving from the Wild, Wild West to the Wild West.”