On April 4, Pew released the results of its survey on e-reading. It’s worth reading, and instead of repeating it I’m going to link: here.
What I am going to do is comment. There are a couple of things that stood out to me, things which are in minor disagreement with other people who’ve looked.
For example, there’s much made of the fact that 72% of Americans have read at least one book in the prior year (as of December 2011), while only 17% had read an e-book. By the next month that latter raised by 4%.
The lesson most are seeing is that print is still viable. And they’re right. But what caught my eye is that in the last two years e-reading has gone up from 9% to 21%, while print reading has gone down from 84% to 72%. Related was that in the first half of the year only 4% read e-books on an average day, while in the last half 15% did so.
The lesson, then, is that while RIGHT NOW print is dominant, there is good reason to question whether it will be dominant five years from now.
This is especially true when you realize this is ALL books for 16 and up readers, which includes textbooks and reference books and so on. I really want to get some breakout numbers from the booksellers that I don’t think will be available, but… how much non-fiction, especially reference non-fiction, is in e-form? And how does that compare to fiction? I know a few non-fiction authors, and they are not printing e-books. They’re thinking about it, but haven’t done so (yet). Their small presses, often “university presses”, don’t “do” e-books.
Now the real deal is to remember to focus on ALL markets: print, voice, ebook, whatever. Bookstores and libraries and trade groups and amazon and … What this information does is help focus your priorities. As a small or indi publisher you can’t afford to try and hit all the markets all at once. Instead you should prioritize where your genre’s buyers are. Yes, it’s reflective of the Big Traditional publisher model, focusing on the head over the tail, but you need to do it anyway. At least, until you know where YOUR buyers are. And until you get the big wheels rolling enough you can fiddle with the small.
Right now, in general, print still outdoes electronic. Which means it’s a big wheel and should not be ignored.