The concept of storing text digitally has been around since the 1970s when Michael Hart reasoned that “the greatest value of a computer should not be merely computing, but also storing material, retrieving it and searching for knowledge kept in libraries”. The first book to ever be stored electronically was The Declaration of Independence and quickly the concept of storing information in this way picked up and large scale dissemination began. Some say the first e-book was the thriller ‘Host’ by Peter James published in 1993 on two floppy disks. It seems when trying to find out the answer, it very much depends on what your definition of an e-book actually is.
Initially e-books covered more specialist areas such as technical manuals and manufacturing techniques and were designed to be shared between experts in their field. As the market became more fragmented e-books became more widely available which leads us to today where over 3,000,000 e-books are downloaded every month. Quite a journey!
Who are e-books most attractive to?
Like anything, e-books are more popular with some groups than others and also go through periods of growth and decline. For example in 2011, only 25% of users aged 18-29 read an e-book, this increased to 47% in 2014. This is the highest percentage of any age group, so when thinking about your audience, then this is a good one to focus on. It may be worth bearing in mind however that they are one of the most inconsistent groups in terms of figures fluctuating. The reasons for this perhaps that this age group are the most liable to follow trends and switch their alliance more easily.
It would be right to assume (according to experts) that this is a high number due to the amount of devices this age group has access to (and is confident in using!) With access to these devices the millennial generation are able to take advantage of the low prices and amazing selection of e-books.
Between 2011-2012 the 30-49 age group jumped from 25% of them having read an e-book to 41% and this number has only increased by 1% in the 5 years since. The relatively static nature of the figure would indicate that this age group are most consistent in their reading habits opposed to the younger generation whose figures have jumped higher, but are more likely to fall back down over the next few years.
It may not come as a surprise that in 2011 only 19% of the 50-64 age group have read an e-book. Although it is still worth taking them into consideration in your marketing plans because it is increasing at a steady pace jumping to 35% in 2014. One age group yet to fully embrace the e-book, and being the only group to decline since 2014 is the 65+group. This could be due to a couple of reasons, one being that there aren’t as many books of interest to them and the other being that a large proportion of this age group have not adopted technology unlike their younger counterparts.
Does the topic matter?
Again the popularity of certain genres of e-books go through trends dependant on what is popular, what is happening in the world and who and what is ‘in’. This can change as often and as unpredictability as the British weather! (We are fickle beings you know!).
The most popular topic for an e-book is fiction, and within this romantic fiction. The graph below from Nielsons shows that between 2013-2016 fiction stayed at around 50% of the e-book share of purchases. Other popular topics include education textbooks, technical manuals and ‘how to’ e-books.
There are some genres however that just lend themselves more to print than a digital format. In busy lives with very little ‘spare time’ digital products are convenient, quick and easy to access and more importantly instant in our increasing demands and expectations. But the nostalgia of reading a book to your child before bedtime, or leafing through a cookbook handed down the generations of your family your grandmother’s pencil notes still in the columns, just cannot be replaced.
As the diagram below shows children’s literature remains (by a substantial amount) the most unpopular genre in a digital format, closely followed by non-fiction. “People prefer to give, or read, children’s books like Harry Potter titles in print, and healthy cooking titles and biographies sell very well in print compared to e-book format” agrees Lotinga.
The future of the e-book
Depending on what you read and where, there are some that say the e-book is on the decline. This is a pretty generalised statement and many making it are not really providing the full picture. It can be very difficult to get an accurate picture of where e-books sit in the market due to the amount of formats available and factors to consider (what constitutes an e-book, how does the e-book need to be downloaded to count, how are e-books without ISBNs tracked, so on and so forth).
What does make sense however is that the busy lives people lead, the continuing rise of online purchasing and the growth of the population being technology literature is that the e-book industry is here to stay. Statista.com state “By 2018, e-book sales are forecast to account for about a quarter of global book sales. Consumer e-books alone are projected to generate nearly 20 billion U.S. dollars in revenue by 2018.”
What is also clear is that the e-book market share has drifted significantly towards “non-traditional~ publishers as evidenced by this chart produced by Nielsen.
The end, or just the beginning?
In conclusion e-books are still extremely popular and an excellent platforms for starting out as an author. They allow you to acquire an audience, explore your writing and these day are easy to publish. E-books are quick to access, easy to accommodate and easily portable all attractive features when considering their benefits. As with all things in life technology isn’t going to go away and as new generations are born old traditions will be lost. Who knows where the next 50 years could take the e-book, perhaps it will be replaced altogether with something newer and more attractive, but for now, it’s here to stay.
First they said CDs were no match for vinyl. Then they said MP3s were no match for CDs. Now they say streaming music services are no match for MP3s. They’re only happy looking in the rear-view mirror.” Charlie Brooker.