In this year's Reading the Future, The Bookseller's third annual survey of UK consumer reading habits, we had an increased focus on digital.
There were some sober findings for digi-nistas. Only 26% of respondents had ever heard of a Kindle, and only 41% knew what a Sony Reader was. The iPad fared much better—60% had heard of it—incredible given that the bulk of the survey was done in March and that the UK launch isn't until Friday, perhaps revealing more about the media's slavish devotion to Apple than anything else (think of Pravda covering the Kremlin during the Cold War, with Steve Jobs a skinnier Krushchev banging his shoe at the next MacWorld screaming, 'We will bury you!').
More worrying, is that a combined 70% said they would 'definitely not' (32.3%) or were 'unlikely' to (36.8%) to buy any sort of e-reader in the coming year. Our survey, it should be noted, was conducted online and repsondents had to be book readers. So we're talking about bookish folk, and not the Luddite end of the market.
The bottom line is that e-readers are still not appealing to the vast majority of the reading public. And never mind appealing, they have never heard of the freaking things. The things they have heard of are machines most people use every day: the Blackberry (73%), the iPhone (73%), even the Nintendo DS (74%). It should not go unnoticed that all these devices' primary function is not book reading. And the driver for the iPad for most customers, as sexy and appealing it is for books, will not be because of the iBookstore, it is its multi-functionality.
The only way forward I can see for a dedicated e-reader is to drive price down. After Friday, who would want to buy an e-reader (particularly a monochrome one), when you can get an iPad for around the same ball-park price-wise, and it will play video, surf the web etc? And our survey backs that up. The main driver for customers who said they could be persuaded to buy an e-book was that if it 'cost less than £100.' Over to you, Amazon and Sony.