This post is just going to ask some questions around this issue. It’s madness to attempt to answer it straight -
- You have eReader owners believing that cellphones have no role to play. Perhaps rightly so since cellphones didn’t do squat for eBook sales or traction – it’s only with the advent of eReaders that we are seeing big changes.
- At the same time the portion of the population that reads a lot of books on their cellphones is up in arms about how cellphones will always be important ebook reading devices – especially after, as they believe, dedicated devices have disappeared.
Consider the comments on this Teleread post – ‘Cellphones as eReaders may be important to Publishing’s future’. I’m on Richard’s side – Assuming a lot of readers read complete novels on their cellphone is probably wishful thinking.
However, let’s look at it from a neutral viewpoint.
How significant is reading on cellphones?
Flurry released their analytics in the middle of last year saying there were 3 million iPhone owners reading eBooks. Let’s figure out numbers for 2009.
Let’s consider exactly what that might equate to -
- 3 million owners reading eBooks.
- Reading Apps compete with 100,000+ other apps.
- Cellphones probably aren’t used for reading when books or dedicated eReaders are available.
- Perhaps a million or so Kindle for iPhone users. Perhaps another half million or so users for all other reading apps (as opposed to just books).
- Let’s say these two groups read one complete book every 3 months.
- Let’s say the remaining 1.5 million read a book every 6 months.
Using that very rough estimate we get – 1.5 million readers that read 4 books a year and 1.5 million readers that read 2 books a year. That’s 9 million books a year.
What about people who read a lot on their cellphone?
Let’s assume there are .2 million readers (which we’ll add on as we’re feeling generous) that read a ton of books on their iPhone or cellphone and they read a book every 2 weeks. That’s .2 million readers that read 26 books a year which equates to 5.2 million eBooks a year.
Our total is now 14.2 million books a year. This is our rough estimate for 2009.
How significant is reading on eReaders?
Let’s say the number of eReader owners are – 1.5 million for the Kindle, .75 million for the Sony, .25 million for all other eReaders (average for the year). We’re talking 2009 so we leave out the Nook.
What this might equate to -
- 2.5 million eReader owners.
- These are obviously more likely to be big readers.
- The devices are tailored to reading and there are no distractions.
- The upfront investment means users will be motivated to get value out of their device and read lots of books.
- Let’s say .5 million are voracious readers that read a book a week (read = buy) which gives us 26 million ebooks sold.
- Another 1 million are frequent readers that read a book every 2 weeks. That’s another 26 million eBooks sold.
- Finally, we have the remaining 1 million that read a book every 2 months. That’s 6 million eBooks.
Our total comes to 58 million eBooks. A rough estimate for 2009.
How significant is reading on other devices?
We’ll take the easy way out and leave this out of the equation – The post is analyzing whether cellphones are hugely important as eBook reading devices so comparing their importance to eReaders is enough for the moment.
What do our rough estimates say about the importance of cellphones?
The two key figures are -
- 14.2 million books a year on the iPhone. Keep in mind that only 3 million out of the tens of millions of iPhone owners actually read eBooks.
- 58 million eBooks a year on dedicated eReaders. It’s important to note that almost every single eReader owner reads eBooks.
Even with limited penetration and a small user base (3 to 5 million total eReaders) we have dedicated reading devices dwarf the iPhone in eBook sales (in our estimates). The 3 to 5 million eReader owners buy over 4 times the number of books that 30 to 50 million iPhone owners buy.
Why then are people fixated on iPhone owners and cellphones?
Lots of reasons -
- Mistaking intent – Buying a device that is focused on reading books is much more valuable than buying a device that can be used for reading books. Yet people assume one iPhone user is equivalent to one eReader owner.
- Not valuing the top 20% of customers who account for 80% of sales. These will almost always buy dedicated eReaders.
- Being overawed by numbers. If 35 million or so iPhones lead to 3 million ebook users that’s still just 3 million ebook users – NOT 35 million.
- Assuming do-everything devices can be as good as dedicated devices.
- Assuming people will value convenience over the quality of the reading experience.
- eReaders have no sex appeal.
- Mostly because it’s a great story – the myth of the ‘does everything excellently’ device.
The other factors are easily overcome – you can show the percentage of eBook sales that eReaders account for and quiet down claims that the iPhone is more important for reading than dedicated eReaders. However, the story is hard to beat.
The ‘iPhone kills eReaders’ story
The tech savvy don’t look at eReaders as great for reading, simple to use, devoid of excess functionality. They simply see - not enough features, it looks so 1985, it’s not shiny enough.
Since they control most of the tech media and since a lot of the commenters are very tech savvy too there’s a constant portrayal of eReaders as terribly inefficient and a waste of money.
In that context we have a story -
- Once upon a time there was a beautiful kingdom where all the gadgets were shiny and so advanced they had functions that people didn’t even use.
- Then there arose a terrible plague on the land – eReaders that hurt the technocracy’s delicate sensibilities because they only did one thing and they did it without catering to the wishes of the gadget lords.
- The technocracy then decided to imbue cellphones with a magical ability to read books better. The mechanics of how this was done are still unknown. However, it was a breathtaking achievement – in the space of a few blog posts (and perhaps a few ultra-powerful tech-magic spells) cellphones became the best devices for reading.
- The people who had been forced to read on eReaders and give up the freedom to while away their time rejoiced and threw away their eReaders.
- Cellphones, without even trying, vanquished eReaders. The technocracy showed how they know better than readers what’s good for readers and books. They showed how a device that wasn’t even originally meant for reading can still beat the terrible travesty that is the dedicated eReader.
- The kingdom was at peace again.
See – that’s a beautiful story. That makes sense to someone who values the gadget over the written word.
It’s too bad gadget lovers and the tech savvy aren’t the only people buying books or this beautiful story could actually come true.