In Search Of The Number

There is a number I’d like to know, if I knew it, I think it would help me explain some things that currently seem inexplicable to some and unclear to me.

I know the number exists because I can phrase questions to which the number is the answer (maybe numbers is more accurate, but it’s got less impact). Those questions can be expressed two ways:

– the first; at what £/$/€ spend does a primarily print book reader become a primarily ebook reader?

– the second; at what number of books read does a primarily print book reader become a primarily ebook reader?

It has a follow on question:

– Which indicator is more reliable, ie: is a reader more likely to shift formats because they become comfortable reading ebooks or because they have managed to spend a certain amount of money on ebooks?

I strongly suspect that the answer to the follow on question is that a reader shifts when they become comfortable reading which happens after X (where X is the number) ebooks read. That point obviously changes for different types of readers and is probably very individual. However, there’ll be an average number of books, an average I guarantee that Amazon knows, that B&N certainly knows and that Kobo, Apple, Google and Sony know (or suspect).

If I’m right, and it is about making a print reader comfortable with ebook reading, then conversion is a case of making the offer compelling enough until the formerly print dedicated reader has shifted format without really realizing it.

When you think like that, and you think about 20p ebooks, which seems to have confounded and angered so much of the industry (though to me, just lacked a clear logic that I was aware of, it HAD to have a logic, even if the logic was wrong) they start to make an awful lot of sense. Once you’ve converted the print reader to ebooks (and especially if you shift them to your ecosystem) there’ll be loads of time to drive up the revenue you earn from that consumer. The lost revenue before they convert is simply customer acquisition cost.

See why the number is important to know?

30 thoughts on “In Search Of The Number

  1. I’m still not fully comfortable with my e-reader (though I love it). Certain books I need to buy in hard copy because I enjoy books differently that way. I can only talk about Kindle, but the lack of page numbers drives me mad. Especially in non-fiction books because it makes referencing them really hard for research.
    I don’t think I’ll ever become a sole e-reader reader but for that quick-hit of literature right when you need it, and for long plane journeys, you can’t beat the e-reader.

    1. The page thing doesn’t really bother me too much. Give me the ability share and highlight the passage that you need and I’m happy. As ebooks wrap themselves more and more tightly back into the web, this process will become ever easier (and they will wrap themselves back into the web over time).

  2. I don’t believe there is a number at which one changes format habits. Everyone reads at a different speed and different level.

    I can tell you as an avid reader, averaging about 20 books a year, once I got a Kindle, I stopped buying print books. Why? Mainly because Ireland’s print book prices have always angered me. As an American living in Ireland for 16 years now, I’m still comparing Irish to US prices. A $6 paperback in the US sells for €10 here. Convert the euro to the dollar and that same book is now $14. Why pay that when I can get two books in the US for the price of one here? For me, it comes down to justifying values. Similarly, it’s all about the trade size paperbacks here which average €14. That’s nearly $20. Would I pay $20 for this book in the US? No, so why pay for it here? Amazon UK has been brilliant at offering books at a more realistic price than the shops in Ireland, that goes for all the smaller stores and Waterstones. And if I buy £25 or more, I get free shipping to Ireland.

    Going back to why I stopped buying print when I got my Kindle, now that digital books are so much more widely available, I can buy that €10-20 book for much less a digital format. But that has it’s own context, as traditional publishers haven’t got the whole digital thing yet and consistently price digital books at the same or similar price as their print books. They’re missing the point that digital has always been meant to be more affordable because the costs of production are much less.

    But going digital now means all those thousands of small presses out there have a wider audience in which to sell.

    Have I stopped buying traditionally printed books? Fiction, yes. I still buy other books in print . . . cookery books, knitting pattern books, etc. But fiction, which was always meant to be throwaway, will always be digital for me.

    As a published author, I can tell you that one of my books is available both in print and digital. I haven’t sold a print book in over three years, but the digital version is going quite well. Buyers have the option and they’re consistently buying digital.

    And as a publisher, I can tell you not one of our readers or potential readers has ever asked about a print version. And our authors, while they’d love to have that tangible book in their hand for their bookshelf, are 100% dedicated to the digital book industry.

    These days, in a global market, not Ireland’s insular one, it’s not about print vs digital anymore. It’s publisher vs self publish, which is another discussion altogether! 😉

    –> One suggestion for people who aren’t comfortable reading on a device like Kindle . . . get a good cover for the device. The device is light weight and foreign feeling in a reader’s hands. Put a cover on it, with a front flap, and it becomes a familiar feeling in the hands again. I bought an Oberon Designs ( leather cover for my device ( which gives the device a book feel, IMO. I open the front flap to access the device as I would a printed book which satisfies my tactile desire. Once the device is turned on, the look of the page is near print quality (standard Kindle with e-ink technology) which satisfied my visual desire. And if I drop the device, the cover protects it, satisfying my wallet’s desire 😉 Dropping the device is one of the top biggest fears readers have. With the expensive cost of the device, who wants to drop it and break it?

    1. But you did mainly shift Kemberlee, just the figure was low and driven by your perception of value, rather than high and driven by a perception of ease. I don’t doubt that many people shifted for the same reasons, but most take a while and I’m keen to know that average.

      Sure, all of us dedicated ebook readers have hold out print genres or segments (I buy TOO MANY cookbooks in print) but our primary purchases are in digital and that is where I’m eager to learn and know and where I think there lies and explanation for much that’s happening in the industry right now!


      1. I notice the other week that all my social reading is now on Kindle (either a Kindle itself or the app on a variety of devices). I started reading on the iPad about 18 months ago for ease of reading in the dark without disturbing anyone and then moved to a Kindle for ease when travelling/commuting. The ease of moving what you are reading across devices and apparently seamless synchronisation between devices means that I now only buy in digital. (I had been buying a print and digital copy for a while – I was a publisher’s dream customer). Ease of purchasing and price point also have a role to play but for me it was the improvements in the technology which tipped the balance. I, too, still buy way too many cook books in print format – I don’t see that changing any time soon.

      2. Before I got my device, I was like many people out there reading mostly print but venturing into digital because there are some great stories only available digitally. I made the big switch once I got my Kindle. It meant I didn’t have to read on my computer anymore or print off pages to read in bed. After working on my computer all day, it was hard reading for pleasure there too. Kindle made it easier.

        Since getting my device, I’ve stopped buying print fiction for the reasons I gave you above . . . tired of paying inflated prices in Irish bookstores, could buy great stories that are only on digital, access to thousand of small presses . . . and not having to rely on what the Big Five (formerly the Big Six) tell us to read, which are those big branded named authors like Lee Childs, Nora Roberts, Michael Connolly, Cecilia Ahern etc. I want choices and the shops don’t give them to me. Such as Charlene Raddon, Cindy Nord, Reid Lance Rosenthal, Alexis Harrington, Tony Black, etc. While some of them have paper books, they push digital because that’s where the sales are. And they’re darn fine writers and story tellers.

        And I’m tired of shops like Easons telling me who I can read based on who they stock. They won’t stock Elizabeth Chadwick because they say she’s too British. She writes English historicals that include Irish historical figures from the 12/13th centuries but she’s too British. They don’t stock Sharon Kay Penmen and very rarely Barbara Erskine. Those three women dominate British charts and have for years. They’re divas in their own right and amazing storytellers. Easons won’t even stock Stella Whitelaw, who has more then 50 novels to her name and is a top seller in the UK, because she’s too British. They do stock some male British authors but that smacks of the ‘good old boys club.’

        Yet Easons will continue to foist poorly written Fifty Shades of the Ridiculous because it’s selling like there’s no tomorrow. Pardon the cliche. And they’re stocking that smut with regular fiction within grasp of children where the rest of erotica is being stocked on the high shelves. Doesn’t make sense.

        PLUS, a big issue for me, I predominantly read romance for my reading pleasure. In Ireland, publishers think chicklit is romance and it’s not. They stock Mills and Boon for romance, but those stories pale in comparison to a real, hearty, traditional romance. And M&B books are too short. I like big books. I’m tired of short stories and novellas. I want novel length and super novel length books to read. These days, most of them are only got on digital.

        Yeah, value had a lot to do with it. But mostly it was being given the choice now of where to buy the kind of books I wanted to read. I still have favorite authors our there who don’t venture into digital, but they’re also not available on Irish bookshelves so I’ll still be buying through Amazon UK for some paper backs. Maybe you can say only 1% of my fiction reading these days is on paper.

        😉 Can you tell I’m passionate about this subject?

      3. Samantha, You bring up a good point with synchronization. I can read the one book on Kindle, but open up Kindle for Android and it opens the book exactly where I left off on Kindle. Same with Kindle for PC. That’s because all books bought via Kindle are stored on our Kindle library on their cloud. I love that.

        Admittedly since investing in a new phone last year (my first smartphone) I do a lot of reading on it, including where I get all my news. No longer buy papers and very few mags and almost never watch the news on telly.

  3. Great responses – and as a former book lover, once I started working full time, I found it hard to find the time to read a book, and also to justify the cost, when libraries were a little more inconveninent. I bought my Kindle in August, since then I’ve read / downloaded over 20 titles, and I have to say its made me a great reader again! I also love the fact that on recent travels I didn’t have to worry about heavy books for guiding me around, I was simply able to download the relevant LP and off we went. Fantastic. On forgetting my kindle one day I was able to download the app, sync my library and still read the book before I’d gone through 3 train stops – amazing.

    I love my Kindle, I love the app – I just am sad that the Amazon Fire is not available for full use in Ireland!! 😦 But I do believe some kind NI retailers can help you out with setting it up so you can get the full functionality of it!

    1. I wouldn’t worry about Kindle Fire having full use in Ireland. Irish Kindle users are getting titles off Amazon UK which has a much smaller library than Amazon US.

      Regarding libraries, a lot of them are also now offering digital books rentals as well as sales. We saw about 30% of our sales last quarter coming from books selling into libraries. That’s globally, not just Ireland.

      1. Nope, all through US! It’s a requirement from Amazon. All international customers without an account in one of the countries that have their own AMZ site run through .com

        If you have a UK postal address and a/c you can use but otherwise you MUST register through .com!

      2. Wouldn’t most people in Ireland and the UK buy through Amazon UK already? I go through Amazon US mostly because I bought my Kindle in the US . . . rather, it was gifted to me from the US.

      3. Yes print and other stuff are bought through UK, but AMZ have set the Kindle system up differently.

        When they launched the .Ca Kindle site they forced all the previously .com based Kindle readers onto the .ca site and some folks lost books!

  4. Yes, as a Kindle user I HAD to register with .com, which, while that has certain advantages, does have much more expensive UK and Irish writers available to download. It is beyond me why the price should vary for a digital download regardless of where you are buying it from!! Even my guidebooks were more expensive on the .com site than the site.

    As a tablet I think the fire offers great usage for purposes other than ebooks, and that having full functionality of apps, magazines and tv subscriptions means that kids, and people who are not generally into reading are more likely to read more, as its the same piece of equipment that they have to carry to watch their movies, for parents its cheaper than an ipad or a galaxy.

    So… how long till text books aren’t required for primary and secondary school as the kids go digital for those?? Save a lot of back ache and heavy schoolbags!

    Also – agree about the cover, the cover makes me feel like it is a book!

    1. We pay VAT on downloads from the US site. A book our company charges $1.99 for is actually $2.45 for Irish customers on Amazon US.

      Text books are already going digital. One day, Irish kids won’t have to lug around 20 pounds school bags anymore.

      1. The VAT is 3% (the Luxembourg rate). Also they add and indefinite sum to those outside the US for reasons I’m not clear on! Books we sell at $2.99 are selling at $3.46 or so!

      2. We pay VAT on all books though – so that’s not what bothers me – its that the UK and the US charges different prices for their books for customers (more often for UK / European authors) than the site. For example – i recently downloaded The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz and it is GBP4.99 and USD10.09 – that book should only be USD8.40. The prices should be fluid with exchange, and not just because demand for some books in some countries is higher than others, as I am more likely to read UK authors, they are frequently in the book charts etc here – but because I have to have a .com registered Kindle account I have to pay more for them.

      3. Yes, we already pay VAT on books, but Amazon US has had to add the extra charge onto downloads into international customers since they can’t charge state sales tax on those sales.

        Regarding the steep prices between countries, that’s down to the publisher. Since Amazon US is so much more active than the UK site, they can justify charging more. If you have a US registered device, the US site will be your only option. Similarly, if you’re registered through the UK site, you cannot access the US Kindle side of things. But the price is down to the publisher.

        It’s also down to the current exchange rate, as you already noted.

  5. Eoin and Kemberlee – you are both referring to E-books for the kindle that are charged higher for Kindle Customers shopping from .com and purchasing for a Kindle in Ireland?

    Strange – and would you as publishers not try and challenge Amazon on this…

    1. In most cases, it’s not Amazon’s call unless they’re sponsoring a sale. Publishers set the price. For example, when I upload our next book out tomorrow, I set the retail price I want on the book, in this case, $4.99. Amazon asks me if I want to just sell in America or in other countries, and if the latter, which countries. Down on the pricing section, it asks me to either set my own price for the book or let the pricing be whatever the daily exchange rate is to the $4.99usd. I could very well price this book at $4.99 in the US and £4.99 in the UK and in euro countries rather than letting the exchange rate dictate the price . . . £3.17 and €3.69 respectively.

      We had an incident before the holidays where Sony wasn’t correcting prices back to retail from our sale prices. Amazon saw Sony was charging less, so they discounted our books to match Sony’s price. Once Sony finally had their ears chewed off and the prices regulated, we sent a price change back to Amazon and it was corrected back to retail in a couple hours.

      Where print books are concerned, the more books selling the better price they can get them at though the printer. Example, one of my own books is in print and retailing for $12.49. Back when print books were selling, this retail price was knocked down as far as $7.50 because it was selling really well. Amazon got the books cheaper at the printer and passed on the savings to the customer. But now because the book rarely sales (the Kindle version is doing well), the price doesn’t fluctuate at all from retail. This is what’s happening when you see a book with a retail price crossed out and an Amazon price in place of retail.

      Is this clearer or am I just muddying the waters? 😉

      1. Kemberlee,

        Amazon also add a mystery amount to ebooks sold through AMZ,com to people outside the US. One portion is VAT the other portion is … no-one really knows! Quite annoying!

  6. Any way, regardless – it took me the following to love my kindle
    – regularly running out of bookshelf space and having to offload novels to the charity shops
    – being able to read big books on the train without having to carry them
    – travelling around australia with no guide books and no need to charge my battery, or worry about my kindle being stolen – its an investment, but not as much as a fancy tablet that would have needed charging every couple of days
    – being able to buy a book and read it moments after reading a review of it.

    1. Many of those things were what we discussed at the Dublin Book Fair this past November. Great discussion.

      We donated 17 cases of books to SVP last year and we have at least that many more cases under the stairs. Since my DH is on contract, we have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Admittedly though, most are not novels . . . a few first edition hard cover fiction and one author I collect, but most are cookery books, knitting pattern books, historical texts, research books, etc.

  7. When we had a discussion on my blog that touched on similar concerns, the comments I had from ereader users – all UK or USA based it must be said – was that they would not pay more than the tiny prices they had become accustomed to. But then the bloggers I know tend to prefer print books still to ebooks, although they read both. They also tend to be heavy reviewers and so can access all the books they want for free through Netgalley (I think it’s called).

    1. Litlove, so nice to hear from you!

      Yup, NetGalley it is,

      I remarkably calm about pricing. maybe that’s foolish but I think consumers know the difference between an offer that luring them in and ongoing pricing. It doesn’t take long looking for the authors you like to realize that their ebooks are not always cheap as chips. Now that I’m a converted digital reader, price (the bank balance aside) is considerably less of an issue for me than it once was, but then (and this is crucial) I (like anyone who takes the time to discuss book and ebooks online) am probably a far from usual reader, digital OR print!


      1. I think everything we buy has a personal value. Do WE think the item is worth the price tag? While I prefer to not spend more than $5 on an ebook, if the book is a ‘super novel’ (that over 100K words) or a subject I really want to invest in, then I’ll consider the price.

        I think there is a group of people who refuse to pay more than 99c for their ebooks for whatever reason, regardless of quality. I think when you limit yourself like that two things happen — 1) we miss out on a lot of great reads that may be a little higher priced and 2) our standards of quality drop. Look at how many people are reading 50 Shades and thinking it’s a remarkable read. It’s a poorly edited book with characters that are very hard to belief in. It’s pure titillation read for one purpose. Yet it’s selling by the millions. Fair play to EL James but really, where is the quality?

        I’m hearing more and more from friends on social sites who have gone back to the classics because today’s cheap reads are such a disappointment and they feel the industry is going that way . . . dumbing down.

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