The Scary Numbers of E-Book Consumerism

Let me introduce to you to a graph that is generally accepted in technology sales as proven mostly true:


This graph is showing you how the majority of people buy technology. You get the Innovators (or Pioneers) who are the first to buy something the instant it comes out. (I’m not talking about iPhone 5s, because if your first smartphone was a generation beyond the first one, you’re not even an Early Adopter).

For instance, my husband was keen on the iPad enough to be an Innovator. I was in the Early Majority because I consciously waited for the second generation to come out (maybe that makes me a laggard).

Let’s put iPads aside, though what we’re really going to do is bundle all the devices that can read digital books together. This includes all the e-readers and any device that is used to read books (yes, including smartphones). Now we have a group of people bundled together that read digital books. At the moment there is the guesstimate in place that 40% of readers are reading digital books.

There’s your first scary number for digital only publishers (including you, if you self-publish digital only). The audience is being trimmed down. Out of 100% of people in the world, a smaller percentage of them are readers. I’m going to use USA figures (even though I’m Australian) because they’re an easier sample to quantify as there are lots of surveys and numbers online. So using YOUGOV, Huffington Post and PEW Research numbers, they all agree that somewhere between 69-76% of people are readers (2013 figures). Out of those 70-something%, they were split into 50% paperback readers, 20% e-book readers.**

So we have this massive influx of digital books available for the smallest amount of readers. Yes, most readers will read more than 10 books a year, so there’s some hope there… but it’s not enough.

Now here is where I’ve been spending my thinking time lately in terms of e-books and independent publishing…

Back to the graph: Where do you think e-reader purchases fall now? We’re definitely past the Innovators – every one of those that would buy a reader device already has one and has upgraded several times.  I would also say we’re past the Early Adopters too, they’ve had the chance to upgrade a couple of times. Now we’re hitting the majority folk… the ones that wait to see if the product really is any good, or until someone recommends it, or until they finally perceive value of it.

Are buyers of e-reader devices sitting in the Early Majority or Late Majority? I can’t decide, and it has impact on the future of digital publishing. We are publishing in the glut zone at the moment. There are lots and lots of titles that have been published and the same amount of reader percentages (or less, but I don’t think those numbers have been researched properly yet, so I wouldn’t say less/more right now).

I hope we’re not with the Laggards, because that means the market is already sitting at maximum capacity.

The moral of this blog post? Just something to think about… but also a good argument to offer your book in as many formats as possible, because books in print are still a preferred option and will remain that way for many years to come. In 50 years time, paperbacks might be the novelty or impossible to get, but certainly not in the next 10.

**All the percentages I looked at were relevant to FICTION readership only.


2 thoughts on “The Scary Numbers of E-Book Consumerism

  1. I’ve always wanted my books to be available in print as well as e-book format, because a lot of people do still read books that way (including me quite often). The problem of course for self-publishing is the economics; POD is really the only practical option (unless your print sales become consistently high enough to justify the outlay on a print run) and the unit cost is then rather high. Which means that I would think (though I’ve got no figures to back it up) most self-publishers will continue to sell the most in e-book format. But some in print too, and that should be available.


    1. Thanks for commenting. I agree POD is the best risk-free option, though I think having boxes of unsold books in the shed would also encourage writers to get out there and sell them. I think POD is the perfect place to start and is all I can afford to do at the moment (though I do buy cartons of my books for events and local bookstores).

      I’ve sold way more digital copies via online retailers than I have paperbacks, but selling the paperbacks personally keeps my numbers fairly even. The nature of where your customer is dictates the format, of course. It makes me wonder about the surveys too… were they online and would that skew the numbers?


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