Mark Terry

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Predicting the E-Reader Market

July 7, 2011
Mark A made a comment today on my blog post about Dear Readers a couple days ago and I made a very, very lengthy reply. So lengthy that I decided to repost it here as well:


Some of the projections I see from currently successful e-book authors seem to suggest the growth will continue for a long time, but I think they're being wildly overoptimistic. I'm also waiting for a certain backlash.
One recent poll found that most eReader buyers were women, while most tablet buyers were men. Additional surveys have found that most people don't use tablets as reading devices. 
Sometimes I read articles talking about the growth of ereading devices that include tablets and to me that creates a really distorted view of the e-reading market.
Also, although I'm not really pessimistic on this front, I'm just skeptical of anything that shows anything greater than, say, 12 or 15% growth. In my experience analyzing the clinical diagnostics market, where some companies show growth of 150% a year, that's not sustainable, it's just a sign of new companies exploding into an open market. Once they "mature" their growth tends to be in the 8 or 9 or 10% range.
At the moment e-readers and e-books are showing 150% and things like that and it's just plain naive to think that will continue for more than a few years. And contrary to what some people say, I don't think EVERYBODY'S going to want an e-reader. For the person who reads one or two books a year, primarily when they're on vacation or that they received at Christmas, I just can't imagine them wanting to justify the expense of an e-reader.
I personally suspect - without any numbers to base it on, just a gut feeling based on experience - is we'll see explosive growth for a couple more years in which paper sales drop, then the market will reach some level of saturation. Some e-reader owners will decide they're not as fond of e-readers as they thought and will want paper. (After all, the book doesn't require electricity!)
But I seriously doubt that e-readers are going to lead to an increase in reading in general.

Thoughts? 

13 Comments:

Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I agree that the number of readers is not likely to increase and that's the real problem for book publishing. More people are spending less time reading and more time on a variety of new alternatives. A lot of people, (and maybe a majority of men?) once they are out of school, would hardly ever consider reading anything for pleasure. Sadly, for authors, reading books is not a part of many people's lifestyles.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

A week ago we had dinner with a group of friends. One of the women is a middle school Language Arts teacher. Our youngest son has him next year for Honors Language Arts (a funny story there I'll have to share sometime). She asked me if Sean had started reading the summer reading assignment yet. I laughed and said no. Her husband said, "Is there a movie version? That's what I would have done in school." (He's also a teacher).

One of my other friends, whose wife has read my books, said, "Yeah, me, too." And in fact, he's a great guy, very smart, but he's flat out told me he doesn't read books. Magazines maybe, but never books. Ever.

And these are smart, successful people. I'm discouraged by it in many ways, but I've come to accept that many, many people just do not read books for pleasure (even when they know the author, I might add, although I'm used to that, too).

11:32 AM  
Blogger Mark Asher said...

I agree. We'll continue to see rapid growth in e-readers and tablets for a couple of years, and then growth will taper off.

Likewise, I think people who get their first e-reader can go a little crazy with ebook purchases initially, but eventually they will cut back and not buy as many. They'll go back to reading however many books a year they normally read.

I don't really see e-readers increasing reading much. All that I see happening is that readers are switching from paper to ebook, and that's fueling the ebook growth.

"And contrary to what some people say, I don't think EVERYBODY'S going to want an e-reader. For the person who reads one or two books a year, primarily when they're on vacation or that they received at Christmas, I just can't imagine them wanting to justify the expense of an e-reader."

No, they won't want an e-reader. It's a silly expense for someone who reads one or two books a year. However, if this person has a tablet, he may opt for an ebook anyway to read that one or two books a year, especially if more bookstores close and he feels like he can save by going with an ebook -- not always the case now, but we'll see.

Really, the only thing I feel sure about is that things will change. It's a great time right now, but who knows what the climate will be like in two years? I'm already seeing a lot of downward pressure on pricing.

There's another possible iceberg in the water. Once people learn they can check out library ebooks from their own living room and the books are never returned late, why wouldn't more people do this? I feel a lot of people don't use the library now because they see it as inconvenient. That objection is washed away with e-readers.

I read the latest Elmore Leonard book that way while it was still in hardback. It was actually a bit thrilling to get a book that way, enjoy it, and not have to pay for it.

What I think will happen is that people are going to retrain themselves in how they acquire books. We may even see a book rental service that's something like Netflix. All you can read for $15/month. Who knows?

11:44 AM  
Blogger Mark Asher said...

And these are smart, successful people. I'm discouraged by it in many ways, but I've come to accept that many, many people just do not read books for pleasure....

It is a bit sad because reading can be such a pleasure. I also believe that reading helps improve verbal skills, both written and spoken, and that's always helpful.

But I have no illusions. I know the majority of people would rather watch TV than read.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Mark,
Sounds like a great business opp for someone with money.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

[There... I made sure to enter name & URL first so I won't forget and end up as Anonymous as I did earlier this week.]

I'd guess that the ebook market will continue to increase until we reach the point where those people who want and would use an ereader gadget (whether Kindle or Nook or whatever) get one. Since there are still many millions of book readers who still do not have an ereader, there is still room for growth. But yeah, at some point most sales of ereaders will be replacements for broken ones or upgrades to get new bells & whistles and ebook market growth will track population growth.

Most of my ebook purchases have been in the low-priced market, such as ebooks self-published by authors (such as you did with the two Stillwater novels that were out of print). I am happy paying two or three or four or five bucks for a book, especially knowing that the author is getting the biggest chunk of that money.

However, I am not attracted by the ebooks put out by publishers where they want almost as much for the ebook version as for the dead tree version. If the ebook is only a dollar or two less than the physical book and it is a book by an author whose works I know and like, I would probably opt to buy the physical book because despite the Kindle being a cool little gadget, I still do prefer reading actual physical books.

If it is an author I do not know...
well, I have accumulated a number of books where I took a chance on an author I didn't know and found that fifty or sixty pages into the book, I just didn't have any interest in finishing the book. I have also found previously unknown to me authors by taking a chance on a book and it has paid off for me in that I have found a writer whose work I enjoy and I then buy more of their books.

But now, if I am considering a book by a writer whose work I do not know and the publisher wants $14.99 for a trade paperback and $12.99 for the ebook, I am more likely to take a chance on a $3.99 ebook by a completely different author... or perhaps one ebook by each of three different new authors who are self-publishing for $3.99 a book (total twelve bucks) figuring that I have pretty good odds of liking at least one of those authors -- and, who knows, maybe I'll enjoy two of them or even all three.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Wendy said...

Jim beat me to one of comments -- the eBook phenomenon is one I'm particularly enjoying because I'm trying new authors I would never try because of the easy "buy-in" price. I'm way more careful with my $15-20 than I am with my $3.99.

I also think it's important for authors to not underestimate the power of the eBook influence. It can easily be your "party dress", your audition for new readers. I've had great and horrible experiences trying new authors this way. Some I loved and will buy again, some I didn't love at all and crossed off my buy list.

And I don't even have a regular eReader. I read books on my iPhone.

Also, this conversation speaks about eBooks as if they are treated simply as an electronic edition of a regular book as if people are just sitting around reading them at Starbucks or the doctor's office. If that were strictly true I might agree with Mark Asher about it not creating more readers.

However, I can tell you I'm reading more since I've started reading electronically and it's because of the convenience it has created in my lifestyle. I'm a very busy person and have to pack as much as I can into my day. I might have unexpected waiting times and not have a book with me before, but I always have my iPhone with me and I always have books on my phone. I also multi-task. I read while I cook which I could never do before because it was annoying to try to hold the book open with a cutting board and then have to undo the whole contraption to turn the page. I also read while I'm knitting. Same thing.

Admittedly, I might be in the minority, but I do think just having the ability to carry a library with you will get people reading more. Maybe the reading population won't grow, but I think more material will be read.

6:41 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I'm an iPad e-reader and I think the next boom is actually in tablets, not individual eReaders. They're really just bigger versions of smartphones anyway, and the eReaders are free apps. People hate carrying several things around, so I think there will be a lot of dusty kindles and nooks in a few years.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Mark Asher said...

"Admittedly, I might be in the minority, but I do think just having the ability to carry a library with you will get people reading more. Maybe the reading population won't grow, but I think more material will be read."

I can see readers reading more because they can more easily carry a book with them. I'm not sure that will convert light readers into heavy readers, though.

"People hate carrying several things around, so I think there will be a lot of dusty kindles and nooks in a few years."

The issue with tablets is they are heavier. A Kindle is so light. It's easy to hold in one hand. And while people don't like carrying things around for the most part, I like having a book with me.

And an iPad is a difficult fit in a lot of purses, but a Kindle/Nook isn't.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I accidentally deleted Mark's latest comment (sorry, Jim, I've got big fingers for the iPhone screen sometimes), so here's what he said:


The ereaders -- well, at least the Kindle and (I think) the Nook -- are "electronic ink" rather than illuminated screens. I spend hours and hours every day staring at computer screens both for work and for enjoyment but it is VERY tiring on eyes. I only bought my Kindle after a fellow passenger on an airplane flight let me spend a few minutes with his Kindle and discovering how different the screen is compared with any illuminated computer screen (whether glass tube or laptop or flat panel). If a Kindle screen were like a laptop screen (or one of these smart phone screens) I would never consider owning one.

When they develop a laptop (or notepad) screen that could switch from illuminated to electronic ink and back again, I will buy one and use it for computer and Internet stuff and also for reading books.

11:10 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

The Ipad is heavy and big, but I think tablets will shrink. I think there's a new one coming out with the Palm OS, and it's small enough to fit in any purse I carry. The Ipad is just the first of these tablets (or the first popular one, I think) and there is a lot of room for improvement.

I love the backlit thing; I love reading in the dark at night. But switching screens is a great idea!

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

By the way, I finished The Valley of Shadows Thursday night (stayed up late to finish it). You are hitting your stride with this book; it is your best Derek Stillwater novel. Chapter 54 was great -- yes, I actually made a mental note to myself to remember that chapter number because I was impressed with the way you handled the sudden rapidly shifting action and wanted to be able to say so.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

I agree that e-reading is becoming popular now. In spite of the upward trend, i don't believe people who are real readers will be happy without the trusty paper version that you can show people and recommend.
One reason for the popularity now is the lower price on the screen that is "low-light" and doesn't burn your eyes out(so they say).
To live in a house with bookshelves of all the books you've read over the years and want to reread, is something special.

10:06 AM  

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