At Frankfurt Book Fair: Phoning up a book

At Frankfurt Book Fair: Phoning up a book

With Tuesday in full swing as a pre-Book Fair conference day here in Frankfurt, questions about how to position reading and publishing in the mobile space are being taken up in at least two sessions.

Michael Cairns and Publishing Technology have unveiled a new study based on the survey responses of some 3,000 consumers in the United States and United Kingdom. "An increasing number of people are now using their mobile phones to read ebooks," the Publishing Technology material tells us. 

The survey results indicate that 43 percent of respondents said they have read an ebook, or part of an ebook, on their handsets. What's more, 66 percent of mobile-phone book-readers (59 percent in the UK and 72 percent in the US) are reported by Publishing Technology to have said they currently read more on their phones than they did last year.

But the other shoe falls pretty quickly here. From Cairns' statement about the survey:

Despite the mobile phone’s overall growth in appeal and popularity as a reading device, the survey discovered that readers, particularly those in the UK, tend to read on their handsets fairly infrequently and in much shorter bursts, compared to the amount of time they would spend reading printed books or ebooks on tablets and e-readers.

A few points to break some of that down, from Publishing Technology (which has also supplied this infographic).

  • Just 26 percent of British mobile phone book readers use their devices to read more than once a week.
  • Some 53 percent of their American counterparts say they use their devices to read more than once weekly.
  • Two-thirds of respondents on the UK side (65 percent) told the survey they like to spend less than 30 minutes reading on their mobile phones at each sitting.
  • Half the Americans responding said they're comfortable spending more than 30 minutes on each mobile phone reading session.

By the way, if you've doubted that romance may not be the dominant choice of readers everywhere, this survey did some asking in the UK, and its respondents answered that when it comes to mobile reading, their favorite genres are:

  • The crime/thriller category (27 percent),
  • Autobiographies/biographies (25 percent),
  • General fiction (20 percent),
  • Science-fiction and fantasy (19 percent), and
  • Romance/erotic fiction (18 percent).

In terms of which companies have the most phones using their mobile-reading platforms, the study  found that "Amazon and Apple have 81 percent of the market share between them, with Amazon’s Kindle ahead on 50 percent and Apple’s iBooks on 31 percent.

"Kobo and Nook lie in third and fourth places with nine percent and six percent respectively." iBooks, the Publishing Technology report tells us, "is closing ground on Kindle among the younger generations."

The study found that 41 percent of 18-24 year olds are using Kindle versus 39 percent who are now using iBooks.

"General lack of convenience"

While it seems as if we hear people talk about reading on their smartphones as being convenience, the Publishing Technology survey's respondents said a "general lack of convenience" was their No. 1 reason not to read on that mobile device.

In fact, those respondents who said they were "opposed to reading full-length books on their phones," the main turnoffs were:

  • General lack of convenience (40 percent),
  • Mobile phone overuse (31 per cent),
  • Unpleasant overall reading experience (33 per cent), and
  • Ease of use and accessibility shortcomings with platforms (24 percent).

"Additionally," says the statement from Publishing Technology, "people who don’t read on their mobiles cited a number of catalysts that could potentially encourage them to read on their phones more readily:

  • Better user experience (21 percent),
  • More bundling deals (15 percent),
  • An increase in price promotions (15 percent), and
  • Wider availability of shorter content forms (13 percent).

And what is probably the most disturbing result of the Publishing Technology survey:

Half (50 percent) of all survey respondents across the UK and US said nothing could encourage them to read books on their mobiles.

Time to hear from Samsung?

And that -- plus some of the comments on inconvenience, in particular -- might be the sort of thing that Samsung's Rory O'Neill and his team at the CONTEC Conference will be listening to hear.

O'Neill is on a panel I'll be chairing at 2 p.m. CEST (1 p.m. GMT) in which industry analyst Michael Norris will start us off with some statistical indications about mobile reading habits and challenges.

Leslie Hulse, who is HarperCollins' senior vice president (New York) for digital business development, will be with us to talk about the needs and interests of publishers in the mobile reading space.

And then we'll turn to O'Neill, who is Samsung's marketing director for the company's European elecommunications division.

Samsung is making a major impression this year at the Book Fair, building a pavilion in the outdoor Agora at the Fair's heart, and -- as we'll hear from O'Neill in the CONTEC panel -- listening carefully to what publishing people are saying they need. With few ready to doubt Samsung's universally recognized capabilities in digital development, what might most profitably lie ahead is dialog.

A part of Norris' presentation of the mobile market will touch on mistakes made in hardware, software, and retail challenges in the mobile space, sometimes in reaction to the 2007 advent of Amazon's Kindle as the first truly viable vehicles for buying and selling ebooks.

O'Neill and his Samsung colleagues have said coming into this first year as a major Book Fair presence that what they're looking for is a genuine, thoughtful exchange of ideas and experience with publishing people who are working to make sense of a complex, sometimes baffling mobile market. As one focus among many in the CONTEC day,

Tuesday, mobile -- its potentials and possible pitfalls for publishing -- will rarely be far out of sight. In prepared comments for his own presentation, Cairns mentioned the chronic lack of good data about mobile development and reading. He's quoted as saying:

The mobile’s rise in popularity among readers is substantial and significant, but so too are the abandon rates and infrequent, speedy reading sessions – this all tells us that the technology still has a long way to go to satisfy readers’ expectations and keep them coming back for more. But as ‘phablets’ become more widespread and platforms seek to rapidly develop the mobile e-reading experience, I think we can expect the growth of mobile phone book reading to continue at similarly impressive rates in the years to come.

The sooner publishing can get a better fix on both expectations and usage patterns, the better that growth will go.

Full results of the Publishing Technology survey, conducted by OnePoll for the company, are available at "Mobile Book Reading Habits." 

Cairns' associate Randy Petway will chair a panel discussion, "The Great Debate: How much money is in mobile?," on the Publishing Perspectives stage, Halle 8, at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Main image on this story: Mobile reading at Frankfurt Book Fair 2012 | Photo by Alex Heimann, provided by BuchMesse

Last photo is of construction Monday, of Samsung's standalone pavilion, which is set in the Frankfurt Book Fair's outdoor Agora | Photo: Porter Anderson