Free ‘key driver’ in e-book sales

Free ‘key driver’ in e-book sales

Sampling free content is inspiring customers to buy e-books, with a fifth of UK readers citing it as the primary reason for purchase, according to new research.

Surveys by Book Marketing Limited (BML) and Bowker Publishing Services presented at the 2011 Books and Consumers Conference in London on Wednesday [23rd March] also showed the trend was prevalent in the US market, where more than a third surveyed said free content inspired them to buy e-books.

Of those surveyed in the UK, 15% said simply downloading a “taster” chapter or extract before buying a book was one of their top reasons for downloading, and another 23% said the cheaper cost of e-books was important to them. The same percentage downloaded content because it took up less space at home.

The most common reason given for using e-books was that readers found them easier to carry around and take on holiday, according to 25% of respondents in the UK. By contrast, 20% said e-books were friendlier for the environment and 18% opted to buy them because wide ranges were available.

Because free content is driving growth in the e-book market, Kelly Gallagher, vice-president of Bowker Publisher Services, said it was vital for booksellers and publishers to flag up information on other books alongside free online material. He said: “Consumers want something they can try before they buy. Any information you can put out there to see as they look for free content is important. Discoverability is essential.”

As of January 2011, more than 3.3% of British book buyers had bought an e-book, up from 1% in September 2010. In the US, 13% of book buyers bought an e-book in January 2011, up from 3.9% in February 2010. Jo Henry, m.d. of BML, said the UK is now a year behind where the US was in February 2010.

Despite three of the big four publishers implementing agency pricing last year, e-book pricing continues to be considerably lower than that of printed books. On average, e-books are being bought for less than half the price of a hardback, and two-thirds of the paperback price. 

Henry also expressed concern that midlist and backlist titles might decline as the online e-book market grows, because the results showed that 47% of UK shop purchases were made on impulse, compared with 23% impulse purchases made online.

A separate survey for Publishing Technology showed one in four UK academic publishers had 10% of total book revenue coming from e-books in 2011, with double predicting this would be the case in 2012. A third of trade publishers believed 10% of total book sales would come from e-books by 2012. This research into e-publishing follows on from a research project in 2001.

Jane Tappuni, business development director at Publishing Technology, said: “These figures show that everyone needs to sit up and take notice to ensure that publishing houses are at the forefront of digital innovation.”

Steve Bohme, research director for BML, reported that the number of print books bought between 2008 and 2010 fell from 344 million to 339 million, with spending falling 3%–4% in each of the last two years. That equates to £2.34bn to £2.18bn in that time. Combined spending on both adult and children’s non-fiction fell by 10% over the same period, with the volume down by 5%. Adult and children’s fiction were only marginally down in value but up by 2% by volume in contrast.

Bohme added internet retailers had increased volume share of purchases from 17% in 2008 to 26% in 2010. Chain booksellers decreased volume share from 37% to 30% in that time. The volume of purchases at independent retailers and supermarkets stayed largely flat.

The BML UK surveys of 4,000 people were carried out in August 2010 and February 2011, and in the US by Bowker from a Book Industry Study Group-sponsored quarterly study of 750 e-book buyers taken from a balanced sample of the US census.