How do people decide which eReader to buy?

There’s obviously a precursor step where people decide they want to get an eReader.

Let’s say that involves one or more of the following – a friend talking about how good it is to read on a Kindle, seeing someone reading on a Kindle or Nook, seeing a TV ad for the Sony Reader or the Kindle, seeing someone reading on an iPad or iPhone, reading on a cellphone or iPad and deciding it might be worth trying a dedicated eReader, reading about how bad or how good eReaders are, hearing complaints about how eReaders will be the death of books and wondering if you should get one.

For this post we’ll just assume that a person has decided that they want to get an eReader.

How do they decide which eReader/reading device to buy?

Choosing between Dedicated eReaders and do-everything devices

The first step perhaps involves establishing a broad set of guidelines and needs –

  1. Want something for reading.  
  2. Have a particular budget. 
  3. Want something focused on reading or want something that’s decent for reading and also does other things.  
  4. It should look cool or it should disappear or it should not be flashy or it should be new and shiny.  
  5. How strong is my impression of the device that got me interested in the first place – Is that impression so strong that it’s the only device I want?
  6. Does it make me look serious, flippant, too serious, like a poser, clueless, lacking taste, careless about money, rich?
  7. Does it make me a target? Will people try to steal it? Can a cover hide it effectively?

Of course, this is all random and unorganized for most people. It’s all feelings and emotions and while some of the points might get written out explicitly (price, features) a lot of the factors that play into the decision (what image the device portrays, how much attention it attracts, how much it suits your needs) are often left out and not really discussed.

Choosing Criteria

We basically get positives (attractors) and negatives (limiters) for dedicated eReaders and for multi-purpose devices –

  1. Dedicated eReader attractors include – absolutely great for reading, no distractions, eInk screen, the device focuses on reading, reading related features, usually lighter and more portable, great battery life, low price, free wireless, if Amazon or B&N customer then it feels right.
  2. Dedicated eReader limiters include – looks either boring or barely passable, isn’t new and shiny, doesn’t do things other than reading, eInk page turns take .6 to 1 second (based on which eReader you get), no color screens, isn’t really the latest technology in terms of being able to show it off, the device isn’t tailored to be a status indicator.
  3. Multi-Purpose Device (iWhatever) attractors include – status indicator, pretty and great design aesthetic, does lots of things, decent for reading, availability of Kindle and Nook books on it, if Apple fan then it strengthens the bond and feels right, might make you more attractive (isn’t the TV always right), in tune with ‘a device should do more than just reading’ mentality, convenient (only for iPhone), back-lit display, large 10″ screen (for iPad).
  4. Multi-Purpose Device (iWhatever) limiters include – certain people are anti-Apple or put off by the hysteria, people who want only a device to read on, size concerns (iPad too big, iPhone too small), portability and weight concerns (only iPad), high price, high cost of ownership for wireless, closed eco-system, not readable in sunlight.
  5. Multi-Purpose Device (Android devices) attractors include – open system, makes sense for people who feel loyalty to Google, lots of features, very anti-Apple, focus on speed and power, works across lots of devices, can soon use Kindle app on it, rapid rate of progress.
  6. Multi-Purpose Device (Android devices) limiters include – too many distractions, apps aren’t as good as Apple, people might not like the Open ecosystem, lack of quality control, devices aren’t as polished as Apple.

The example of Android is just to highlight that it isn’t always ‘dedicated eReader vs Apple’.

It basically becomes a pretty interesting decision. People like to fixate on the reading aspect i.e. focus on reading vs do more than just reading – However, there are a huge number of factors that play a role and we often consider things subconsciously without realizing it.

There are a lot of things that make it to the Top 10 list that might surprise you – openness, prettiness, keeping up with the Joneses, personal feelings about a company, ease of use, working with existing devices and situation, portability, desire to fit in or stand out.

Let’s assume the person makes a decision and decides to go with a dedicated reading device.

How do people choose a particular dedicated eReader?

This is the part that would be absolutely fascinating to see.

Often there’ll a post on the official kindle forum asking about Kindle vs Nook or Kindle DX vs Kindle – However, it’s either a person looking for the last data points to make a decision or they’re just asking for a general comparison and we get no idea of what parts of the answers they factor into their decision.

No one ever writes – The Kindle appeals to me because it’s Amazon and the eInk is good and there are more books available and there are lots of software upgrades but the Nook also appeals because it’s got a 2nd color screen and I’m a B&N Rewards member and I want to go into the store and sit and read books for free and it just seems more advanced because it has a LCD screen.

At least they hardly ever do.

So how do people actually choose?

Let’s start by writing down the main strengths and weaknesses of each eReader.

Kindle Strengths + Weaknesses

Kindle strengths – laser focus on reading, no distractions, cheap price, cheaply priced ebooks, great range of books, Amazon customer service, Amazon brand, constant software improvements, Kindle WhisperNet, lots of features, free wireless delivery, free Internet, free delivery and Internet in 100+ countries (for US owners only), international availability, very easy to use, disappears in the background when you’re reading, Kindle Apps for most platforms, syncing across all devices, share it amongst family members, very cheap refurbished Kindles are available, lots of free book offers, Folders, Kindle DX 2 has the best screen contrast of all available eReaders, best range of font sizes. 

Kindle weaknesses – only excellent at reading, no color, doesn’t focus on looks at all, not flashy and you buy a device that you can’t really show off except to people who read, Publishers have begun to force the Agency Model (higher prices) and sometimes turn off text to speech, no lending or resale, closed format that doesn’t work outside of Kindle and Kindle Apps, closed ecosystem and other ebook retailers can’t sell their ebooks for Kindle, DRM, no touchscreen, only 1 font.

Nook Strengths + Weaknesses

Nook Strengths – dual screens, pretty, LendMe feature, ePub support, B&N eReader apps so you can read Nook ebooks across a variety of platforms, great browser, WiFi, focused on reading, 3 fonts, replaceable battery, SD card slot, low price and there’s a $150 model available, disappears in the background when reading, you can read any ePub books with Adobe DRM or without DRM on it, free WiFi in B&N stores (and perhaps Starbucks too), read any book for free for up to an hour in B&N stores, slightly better screen contrast than Kindle (not as good as Kindle DX 2), Android so if they ever open it up there will be lots of apps.

Nook Weaknesses – bugs, slow page turns, unintuitive user interface, eInk and LCD screen combination isn’t integrated well, customer service not as good as Amazon, book range not as good as Kindle Store, Non-Agency Model books are sometimes slightly more expensive, slower than Kindle when it comes to addition of new features, no Collections or Folders feature, there is no large-sized model.

Sony Reader Strengths + Weaknesses

Note: We’re talking primarily about the Sony Reader Touch Edition as it’s the model most comparable to Kindle and Nook.

Sony Reader Strengths – touch screen, free hand drawing, looks very pretty, very compact, decent range of font sizes, supports ePub, supports DRMed ePub books that use Adobe DRM, Sony Reader Store books work on any eReader that supports Adobe DRMed ePub, apps for various platforms.  

Sony Reader Weaknesses – Doesn’t have wireless (except Sony Reader Daily Edition), largest screen size is 7″ (Daily Edition), prices are higher than Kindle and Nook, book prices for non-Agency Model books are usually higher, range of books is very low, there’s not really an eco-system or a service (it’s just the device), no lending, no text to speech.

There’s not as much to write because Sony Reader hasn’t really improved much since it came out nearly a year ago.

People choosing between Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader

We now know (thanks to the last 3 sections) the best points and worst points of the 3 main eReaders.

The question is  – What happens after a reader has decided they want to get a dedicated reading device?

How do users go from ‘dedicated reading device’ to the point where they’ve decided which eReader to buy and bought it?

Perhaps they figure out what features are most important to them. Perhaps they start exploring what’s available. Perhaps they have already decided and are just looking for data points to support their decision. All we know is that they go from a decision to buy a dedicated reading device to a decision on which dedicated eReader to buy.

Let’s assume there are two stages –

  1. Collecting data points to make or to support a decision. 
  2. Making a decision.

They aren’t necessarily in that order. It’s more of a decision being made somewhere in the process and all the data collection before that point (if any) being used as help to figure out a decision and all the data collection after that point (if any) being used to support the decision and feel good about it.

Guessing what the process looks like

User decides to buy a dedicated reading device. In part this was because he first saw his co-worker reading on a Kindle. Chooses to go with a dedicated reading device because he doesn’t want distractions.

What happens next?

Searches for information on the Kindle and reads the Amazon product page. Searches more and finds a post that talks about Kindle vs Sony Reader.

Finds out Sony Reader has touch. Asks friends and family if anyone has a touch and finds his cousin has one. Talks on the phone about it and finds out that Kindle has cheaper books but his cousin thinks the Sony Reader is better.

His co-worker who has the Kindle mentions Kindle DX.

Goes and compares features and decides Kindle fits his needs and budget better.

Searches for ‘best eReader’. Finds some other eReaders  but none appeal to him. Is about to buy Kindle and then decides to sleep on it.

Next day passes a B&N store and sees Nook advertisement. Walks in and listens to sales guy bad-mouth the Kindle. A bit annoyed at sales man being so aggressive but intrigued by Nook.

Compares Kindle and Nook – looks at comparison chart at B&N. Thinking about getting the Nook now and then sees Nook WiFi for $150.

Completely confused. Reads some reviews and draws up a list of 5 most important features for his needs – low price, lots of books, lending, reading PDFs, text to speech. Realizes Kindle and Nook are neck to neck.

Flips a coin and then wonders if he should try a best of three. Thinks about it a bit more and decides to go with Nook WiFi even though it doesn’t have text to speech.

There are so many parts of this decision-making process that are completely invisible to everyone else. Even a search engine only knows part of it. Even the user’s clicking around only paints a partial picture. 

In this example we haven’t even fully considered a person’s emotions and feelings and things like pressure from a friend/relative to get a particular eReader or reading device. It’s a pretty complicated process with things going on at both the conscious and subconscious level and you have to wonder how we could get better insight.

A reader’s decision making process for which eReader to buy is a pretty involved process – most of it is invisible to others and some of it is invisible to the person making the decision. Yet figuring it out lets us better understand what to build for readers, how to let readers find out about it, and how to help them make the best eReader purchase decision.

What impacts a user's decision to buy a book?

There’s quite an interesting thread in the official kindle forum where an Indie Author asks Kindle owners  – What impacts your book purchase decision?

Let’s take a look at the various answers and then distil them into a rough model.

What Kindle Owners say impacts their Book Purchase Decision

Here were the factors that were mentioned –

cover, sample, price, ,description, author, publisher (if price is high), review.

size of book, budget, something bringing the book to my attention, available for Kindle, author’s previous books/subjects.

review from a respected venue, available for Kindle, text to speech, priced less than paper books.

title, recommendation from web/forum/friend, fellow kindle owners’ recommendations, awards and nominations.

One of the best answers was this one –

First I have to hear about it, of course, and it has to be the kind of book I read. Then –

Price (I only put this first because of the recent overpricing by pubs – I’m simply not buying books at some prices. The maximum price point is different for favorite authors, unknown indies, etc., but there’s a maximum)
Description (if someone can’t write a decent description, I can’t make myself believe they can write a decent book)
Reviews (I don’t read them all if there are a lot, but a sampling of low, medium and high)
Sample (gives me a feel for quality of writing, formatting, and proofreading)

I know covers influence me at some level – I don’t look at books that have no cover – but other than that I’m not sure how much.

The factors that were mentioned most were –

  1. Author. 
  2. Description.
  3. Review. 
  4. Price.
  5. Sample.
  6. Available on Kindle.
  7. Publisher.
  8. Genre.
  9. Title and Cover.

A factor mentioned a few times but probably very important is the book coming to the readers’ attention. It’s also interesting that the Publisher was rarely in the top 5 factors listed and the author was almost always in the top few. A few people specifically said that they didn’t care who the Publisher was.

A significant number of commenters placed a lot of emphasis on the sample. A significant number of readers also said covers were important and that covers would often get them to look at the book and that would lead to trying it out.

4 Sets of Factors that influence a book purchase decision

The first assumption we’ll make is that we’re talking about a book that a reader is actually aware of. Awareness could be a result of word of mouth, advertising, a great cover, coincidence, or something else entirely.

Whatever caused the reader to be aware of a book might also make the reader likelier to buy the book (a great cover, a friend’s recommendation) – That aspect will be considered in the lists below. 

Emotional Factors

If Steve Jobs can use ‘Emotions’ to sell people stuff they don’t want to buy (iAds, not iEverything) we can definitely use Emotions to sell people stuff they already want to buy –

  1. What We Feel and What we want to Feel – Therapy shopping, buying a book because we’re bored or want a break, getting a book to get a new idea, and other emotion-driven reasons to buy a book.  
  2. The Author – How we feel about the author and how the author’s work makes us feel. 
  3. The Cover – the image, the colors and the emotions and feelings it generates. We can jump into a lot of science here like what colors attract people’s attention and what emotions different colors evoke. We can also go into what emotions are triggered by the image selection, image quality, and the polish and quality of the cover design. This is probably the most underestimated factor.
  4. The Feel and Touch of the Book (for paper books obviously).
  5. The Title – A title can convey a lot and have a very strong appeal of its own. Consider how you feel about these book titles (they say much more about the book than we realize) –

    The Road, On the Road, Moonlight Road, The Road Less Travelled, China Road, Dark Road to Darjeeling, The Road to Omaha, The Road to Ruin, Back Roads, Shadow of the Silk Road, The Rocky Road to Romance,  Crossroads, Bend in the Road, The Road to Reality, The Road to Oz, Beach Road, The Silk Road.  

  6. To some extent the Genre. If you’re in the mood to get scared to death you’ll probably be likely to buy a horror book.
  7. Liking – Is the book and the author and the cover something we like. The more things about the book we like the likelier we are to buy it. Here we are talking about what we feel about the book instinctively (as opposed to liking the author and genre in general).
  8. The Usual Psychological Triggers – Sales, Limited Time Offers, Social Proof (i.e. Bestseller lists and Displays filled with 50 of the same book), Authority (telling people what to do), Telling People to Fit In and Be Cool (usually by buying the product advertised), and so forth. Notice that nearly every psychological trigger used in advertising appeals to our emotions.

At some level all purchases are emotional decisions that we rationalize via other factors. It’s a pretty bold statement to make – However, pretty much every purchase we’ve ever made can be linked to fulfilling an emotional need.

Personal Factors

Arguably the second most important set of factors are our tastes and what we prefer –

  1. Author – Do we like the author? Conditionally? Unconditionally?  
  2. Genre – If you always read romance novels and thrillers you’re likelier to buy from those two categories.
  3. Our Unique Criteria – For some people its beautiful covers and for others its quality printing and for a select few it’s the layout of the book.  
  4. Budget – As opposed to price, which is a practical reason, budget is a very personal factor. Perhaps a book is above your cut-off or perhaps we’ve already spent our money for the month.
  5. Preference in Reviews – Reviews are hard to categorize. However, what reviews people choose to favor are a very personal choice – some people like expert reviewers while others like word of mouth and a third category prefer forum and reviews.
  6. How much we value the various Criteria – This is a big one. While emotional, practical, and situational factors are all important it’s our personal preferences that determine their relative importance. That means our personal preferences decide what factors actually get considered and how much weight each holds. Emotional factors can override personal factors.

Personal Factors are crucially important because they are the keys to unlocking the power of Emotional Factors. Knowing your favorite colors and interests and genres and authors would mean being able to show you the books you’re most likely to buy in a context that makes you the likeliest to buy them.

This is also why there’s so much of a push for tailored advertising and why everyone wants all your information – It’s to be better able to trigger your emotions. 

Practical Factors

This is approaching things from the opposite direction of emotional factors –

  1. Price – To ensure you get good value for your money. Perhaps even grab a deal.
  2. Reviews – To ensure that the book is of the type you like to read. To minimize the chance of regret.
  3. Sample – Be 100% sure by downloading and reading a sample. It’s the practical thing to do.
  4. Author and Publisher – Verify that it’s a quality Publisher and that the Author is a good one.
  5. Awards & Recommendations – Increases the probability the book is a good one.
  6. Recommendations from Trusted Sources or from Friends – A good review from a big publication or a recommendation from a trusted friend means you can be sure it’ll be worth your money and time.

Practical Factors are almost the counter-weight to the emotional factors. While our natures and hearts are easily swayed by pretty covers and exciting titles and books that seem to be steals we can always jump into the reviews and get a sample to make sure we’re not wasting our money.

If a company is trying to amp up the emotional factors (by introducing deadlines and limited deals and other exciting things) it’s usually a warning sign.

Situational Factors

If we think of emotional factors as nearly 100% of the decision, personal factors as the key to unlocking emotional factors, and practical factors as the justification plus security check, then Situational Factors are filters.

Using Situational Factors we can suppress or amp up the other factors –  

  1. The recession makes price a bigger factor and deals much more appealing. Also, books that promise to make us financially better off are suddenly very attractive. It probably also leads to more book purchases as expensive dinners and shows are hard to come by. 
  2. A physical book store greatly increases the appeal of a well made book while an ebook store makes covers inordinately important.
  3. Going through a break-up makes poetry and romance more appealing (or for some people – too painful to contemplate). 
  4. Being in a boring job makes spy stories irresistable. Spies probably read books about doing the exact same thing 365 days a year.
  5. A person buying books on Monday at 11 am will choose very differently from the same person buying books on Friday at 4pm.

Situational factors can be very important.

There are some common tricks retailers use – throwing people out of their comfort zone, freshly baked bread in supermarkets, making people feel uncomfortable about stepping out empty handed or clapping for them if they make a purchase, giving free things to make users feel obligated, creating a relationship via member programs, and so forth. These just reframe the context into one that makes us likelier to buy and likelier to make non-optimal purchases.

A Rough Model for Increasing Book Purchases

Actually, don’t want to come up with one.

Amazon do a very good job of providing a lot of information (reviews, editorial reviews, search inside the book, samples, easy returns) and helping users make smarter decisions. At the other end are companies like Facebook that are trying to get all of users’ personal information so they can personalize manipulative advertising and exploit users.

The ideal bookstore would be one that lets actual readers point out the good and bad – one that optimizes for user satisfaction and if anything deters users from making needless purchases.

Optimizing for user satisfaction would, in the long-term, optimize sales and profit. Amazon and WalMart are both pretty good at this (providing value for money, optimizing user satisfaction) but they get vilified because they’re too good and inefficient companies and companies that manipulate people get left behind.

There are of course people who are looking for aspirational products and to find happiness not in what a product’s function is but in possessing it – you have all the luxury companies for that.

There’s probably a 5th set of factors – the identity and social affiliation aspects of buying books and the signalling aspects (pretty closely linked to the former). However, for now, let’s pretend it’s all about pleasure – feeling the emotions we want to feel and ensuring we don’t feel bad about feeling good.