Toadstool Surveys Customers on E-Reading Habits

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Toadstool Bookshops owner Willard Williams recently found out what more than 400 of his customers think about e-books and e-readers.

Williams received more than 400 responses to an online survey sent to customers of his three New Hampshire bookstores. Among the key findings: Ten percent of the survey respondents own e-readers. In addition to asking customers whether they own e-readers, the survey also asked questions about e-books, the store's e-commerce site, and the physical bookstores.

"If 10 percent of our readership in general has an e-reader, that's good to know," Williams said. Another 15 percent of Toadstool survey respondents are thinking of buying e-readers, but they seem to be "waiting to see which seems to be the best one," he added. Amazon's Kindle was the most popular device among the responses, but customers also showed interest in Apple's iPad and Barnes & Noble's nook.

Williams wondered if the flood of early responses -- 150 arrived in the hour after the survey was sent out -- would be skewed toward customers who were more comfortable with technology, but the distribution of responses stayed consistent as the numbers increased.

The survey results present Williams with a clear direction for future marketing efforts: Most customers were unaware that e-books are available through Toadstool's IndieCommerce site, but, Williams noted, "many of them said that if they had a choice" and knew how to buy the correct format, "they'd prefer" to buy e-books through their local bookstore. Pricing and information on new releases were two features that customers indicated they were most interested in. "They're definitely looking for competitive price," he said.

E-book pricing is one of Williams' biggest concerns, although he hopes the agency model being implemented by several large publishers will make it possible for Toadstool to compete in the digital marketplace. "I don't really see a place for bookstores" without it, he said. "The agency model is really the solution for bookstores in general."

The Toadstool survey also showed that a large majority of the stores' customers neither have an e-reader nor plan to buy one in the near future. About the in-store shopping experience, Williams reported, "The majority of people said they really liked books" and visiting a bookstore in order to buy books.

Williams created and distributed the 10-question survey using Constant Contact. The process was "very quick and very easy," he said. "I'd encourage people to try it out."  --Sarah Rettger

To learn more about the value of conducting a survey, and how to properly design and execute one, check out the "Customer Survey" section of BookWeb's Curriculm Guide.