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Books

August 2011

Lots of talk, for some very small numbers

Posted by Mari Gordon on 8 August 2011

Ok, so we had the iPad moment. What’s changed? Lots. The iPad itself was, in truth, disappointing for publishers. Beautiful, sure, but not very helpful. It wasn’t multifunctional and it wasn’t backward compatable with much stuff either (I can’t be the only person still using OS 10.4?) But, like Apple’s previous offers, it was a gamechanger. It established the tablet as a device, despite many people, myself included, wondering if anyone really wanted Job's 'third device'. Apple then let other manufacturers come up with their own versions, the best of which is probably Samsung’s Galaxy, and quietly went home to improve their own model. Having established the tablet, and just in time to catch the secondary wave of adopters, out comes iPad 2. With improved functionality and more features (camera – two, actually), it still passes itself off as the most desirable tablet, even if it’s not necessarily the best. With iPad 2 and the iPhone, Apple has now firmly entered the mainstream consumer market. In losing the geek factor, what has it gained? Well, turnover, and profit, obviously. While Apple’s top-quality combined hardware/software model of Macs retains its market-leading position in the creative industries, the iPods, Ipads and iPhones are now thoroughly high-street, even with their top-end price tags.

However, part of this trajectory has been the strategic downplaying of the iPad’s e-reader function, which is what publishers were most  excited about. Instead, the iPad focuses on portable, sleek, seamless acces to the web and email – truly, a big iPhone, but also ready and waiting for Web 3.0.

In terms of e-readers the iPad moment just didn’t happen. This has left Amazon’s Kindle as market leader, even though it only reads Amazon’s own e-book file format (although there are rumours Amazon will soon be allowing US publishers to submit e-books in the industry-standard e-Pub format). Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, by 2010 in the US Amazon were selling more Kindle books than hardbacks; today Amazon sells more Kindle books than hardback and paperback put together. At the moment it’s selling 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books, and three times more Kindle books than this time last year. In the UK, where the Kindle store has only been open a year or so,  Amazon are selling twice as many Kindle books as hardbacks.

What can we learn from this? Remember, the Amazon figures only apply to their own sales, of Kindle books, which can only currently be read on a Kindle device. What’s happening across the rest of the bookselling industry? The true picture for the UK is that sales of e-books are currently 2.5% of all book purchases; interestingly, they peaked at 3% over Christmas (did you get an e-book in your stocking?!) Adult fiction is still the most popular category, at 5.4% of all purchases; men and women are buying e-books equally, and the age group 55-64 makes up over a quarter of e-book buyers.

This 2.5% seems like a tiny figure for us all to be worrying so much about, especially as the value of the sales is low – about 1.6%. I still can't wait to have a go though.

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