According to the research, which examines eBook reading and purchase behavior from print book readers who recently purchased either an eBook reader or an eBook, eBook sales went from 1.5% of all book sales in Q1 2009 to 5% in Q1 2010, with 33% of eBook buyers entering the market in the last six months. “We are expecting exponential growth,” said Gallagher.
I’m just throwing this out there, because I’m at Book Expo where everybody’s buzzing about e-books and the impact they’ll have on the always turbulent publishing industry. I’m going to do a full #BEA10 wrap-up later, and tell you about the all fun I’m having (and some new novelists I’ve enjoyed meeting) at this crazy annual convention. But for now I just want to repeat something I said to a friend on Tuesday, because I think this is an important point about the future of print and electronic book publishing.
I want e-books to succeed. I have always been an e-book advocate. But there’s a big problem with the product model, and I don’t understand why the book publishing industry is now twisting itself up into a state of hysteria about e-book pricing and piracy and distribution without addressing this big problem with the product model. The problem is this: consumers don’t like e-books.
We don’t like them. We took a look, we tried a few devices, and we’ve agreed that none of them deliver what we want. Look at that strange quote at the top of this page. E-book sales went from 1.5% a year ago to 5% today. “We are expecting exponential growth”. When is this scheduled to begin? The Kindle was introduced, with a disappointing thud, in November 2007. Amazon’s aggressive initial publicity push tried to position the Kindle as the literary equivalent of the iPod, and the e-book as the literary equivalent of the MP3. But consumers loved the iPod and swarmed to the MP3 format. It doesn’t take consumers three years to catch on to a new fad. We’ve seen e-books and were not swarming.
Being a consumer is like being on a first date, specifically a blind date. We gather our first impressions very quickly. Ten seconds after we meet our blind date, we know if we like the person or not. Maybe it takes a further ten minutes to gather enough supplementary evidence to support (or, in rare cases, to change) the original impression.
As e-book consumers, we’ve had our ten seconds and we’ve had our ten minutes. We don’t really like the Kindle or the Nook or the Sony Reader, nor do we like Stanza or Aidiko on our phones, nor the iPad as a reading device. The user experience just doesn’t feel right. Cold glass and plastic and aluminum, it turns out, don’t please us when we’re reading.
I’m not writing this right now because I want e-books to fail. I still believe they are extremely important for the future of publishing, the future of writing, the future of reading. And of course I think they will endure, and will gradually change the way we read.
But I’m not predicting exponential growth anytime soon. There are some indicators too powerful to ignore, and I think publishing pundits ought to stop ignoring the one indicator we all see. Consumers do have some sway here, and business analysts who project a gigantic sudden move towards electronic formats must be ignoring what they themselves as readers already know. E-books have been a lousy first date.