Now is the winter of my desk content, and I have been trying to catch up on some overdue reading.
In November 2010, Forrester published the results of an e-book survey, “eBook Buying is About to Spiral Upward”. The full report is available for $499, and author James McQuivey offers a helpful summary that can be downloaded for free.
The survey first tried to establish how readers get books today. Asked “In which of the following ways have you acquired a book in the past six months?”, those responding most often said “A friend gave/loaned me a book” (50%).
The next most frequent answer was “Got a book from the public library” (38%). Chain bookstores (38%) and Amazon (28%) were third and fifth on the list, with “Found an older book in my personal collection” (28%) coming between them.
So three of the four most likely ways someone gets a book are: loan, borrow or revisit – not buy. This got me thinking about digital books.
If the Forrester survey holds up, and it does feel right, the way we most often acquire books doesn’t mesh well with how e-books are sold. Most e-book files and services have not been configured to readily support giving away or loaning digital content.
There are some limited exceptions: you can share books across devices linked to a common Amazon account, for example. But doing that gives someone access to every book in your collection. You’re probably going to be careful about who you offer that option.
There have also been some recent efforts to let readers lend e-books once, but retailers like Amazon are slow to expand the service. Publishers don’t care that much for used books and libraries.
Still, publishing benefits when people want to read. “Fewer people read these days” is a meme, but what if the move to locked-down digital content was part of the problem?
That is to say: If sharing books is part of what encourages us to want to read them, then not being able to share books risks reducing the size of the market we’re organized to serve.
In various forums, I’ve made the claim that the challenge for editors is migrating from determining what will be published to figuring out how what is published will be discovered. If two of the main ways people acquire content involves lending or borrowing, e-books may need to find a new kind of hello.