Toc: Preview of Smart Women Read Ebooks Panel

February 10th, 2009 · 11 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Some people go to Disneyland, Booksquare goes to New York for the Tools of Change conference. This year, I’m especially excited because I’m moderating the best panel of the conference: Smart Women Read eBooks, featuring the fabulous Angela James from Samhain Publishing, Malle Vallik of Harlequin, and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I’m just going to sit back and let them roll.

(Before we get into the good stuff, I’d like to congratulate Teel McClanahan III of Modern Evil Pres on winning our ToC conference guest pass. And a special thank you to Fran Toolan and Doug Lessing of Firebrand/NetGalley for sponsoring last night’s bash, with an extra-special shout-out going to Kat Meyer of the Bookish Dilettante for putting it all — and I mean it all together.)

For those of you who cannot join us in our cozy conference room, I’d like to offer up an outline of what we’re going to discuss. In preparation for this panel, we surveyed approximately 750 female readers about everything from their ages to how many books they read a month to what they’d say to the publishing industry about ebooks, if they could get publishers in a room to talk. We received hundreds of well-considered comments on just about every question. My favorite was in response to the “Anything else?” question…to which one reader responded, “I think I’ve said more than enough.”

She did. And we appreciate her time and candor. We appreciate everyone’s time and candor. So to give you an idea of what real female ebook readers are thinking, read on.

  • Prices, Prices, Prices: According to the NEA, literary reading is up, with an increased number of adults saying they’ve read a single work of literature in the past year. Our readers buy and read two to five books per month. That means they’re spending fifty dollars (at Kindle prices) per month on ebooks alone. These same readers report comparable print book reading and purchase rates.

    Something’s gotta give. If you want this market to thrive, you have to understand your customers. If you understand your customers, you get the fact that they’re happy to pay for your product…as long as you price it reasonably. They understand what they’re buying, quite possibly too well. They get the impermanence of the technology, they often see their purchases as “rentals”, they feel like, in some cases, they’re getting less book for their money.

    Oh, and while they’re buying books, they’re also dealing with family budgets, kids, and dozens of other pressures on their purses. You want to sell more books, they want to buy more books.

  • b: The vast majority of respondents read romance and erotica when it comes to ebooks. This is not a surprise. For over ten years, these genres have been building a dedicated readership, largely outside of mainstream publishing (Harlequin being one publisher who entered this market in a huge way). They also read widely in other genres, and as selection increases, so will their reading happiness.

    There were some really interesting common threads regarding selection that I’d like to highlight. One was a strong desire for age appropriate reading material for children. Kids are both reading one their parents’ devices and parents are looking for ways to read to their children. I’m seeing a lot of interesting challenges — meaning there is potential for creative solutions — when it comes to picture books and content presentation, but that’s what keeps life interesting.

    There was also a strong desire for series to be published digitally in their entirety. These readers noted that publishing book two or three in a series electronically was great, but without book one, it made no sense. Older backlist and out-of-print books were also on the “we want more” list. There’s a market for those books that fall into the “in copyright, out-of-print” bucket, but it does raise questions about return on investment for publishers.

  • b: My first comment to the panel was that readers are downright hostile to DRM, but as I read more closely, I realized it wasn’t hostility toward DRM, per se, it’s the fact that managing DRM is so difficult that angers these readers. They get that publishers need to protect their product, but when means that they can’t access the books they’ve purchased — or that someone might take those books away at any moment — it doesn’t engender warm fuzzies.

    It is said that DRM doesn’t work. I think it’s better to say that it doesn’t work the way you think it does. It’s not keeping piracy at bay. It’s locking you into platforms and devices and systems that are outside of your immediate control. It’s creating ill will with your customers. I don’t have a magic solution for you on this, but strongly suggest that if you love the people who buy your books, you might want to rethink your DRM strategy.

  • A World Without Boundaries: I am going to say something shocking. Readers do not understand how and why territorial rights are negotiated, and they’re not thrilled about the fact that ebooks are subject to these restrictions. All they know is they get a whole big bucket o’ frustration when it comes to living (or traveling) outside the United States and buying ebooks.

    Oh, and yeah, of course, they’d like these ebooks translated into their native languages. That should go without saying.

I’m sure we’ll be saying more, much more, than the above. I’ll be uploading the slides after our presentation so you can read some of those hundreds of comments for yourselves.

Note: Our presentation is now online.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

11 responses so far ↓

  • Mary-Frances // Feb 10, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Great summary, please keep them coming. I’m very interested in this conference but since I live on the west coast it wasn’t possible for me to attend. I appreciate you sharing the information.

  • Jen // Feb 10, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Very interesting stuff.

    I wonder if there is an embarrassment factor that leads readers of erotica and romance novels to gravitate toward e-books?

    I think I will have to wait until the readers drop in price, though, before I jump into the market. $360 is a lot–my iPod touch was way cheaper than that.

  • Rae Lori // Feb 10, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Kassia. I’m definitely interested in seeing more myself. I’m on the West as well and couldn’t attend the conference but I hope to one day make it over there because it seems like the panels, such as this one, are very invaluable.

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  • Devaki Khanna // Feb 12, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Hi, Kassia
    I’m excited about the development and growing popularity of the e-book market–I’ve hoped that it would be possible for authors published by Indian publishing houses to make their mark in the West. I’m not referring to the Salman Rushdies or Amitava Ghoshs here, but to those Indian authors who write in Indian languages and get their work translated into English. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Rabindranath Tagore, the author of our national anthem, was seen as an avant-garde poet in Bengal till he won the Nobel Prize, because he chose to use simple language, not a literary style, to express himself. Of course, he became a sensation afterwards. So what I’m getting at is the possibility of publishing the works of authors like these in e-book format. I look forward to reading the proceedings of this particular panel.

  • sunil // Feb 12, 2009 at 7:38 am

    don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Rabindranath Tagore, the author of our national anthem, was seen as an avant-garde poet in Bengal till he won the Nobel Prize….

    So u r avant-garde till u win a prize…till u gain recognition?
    If tagore was alive in our days n he was say 25 yrs old…would he have wanted to b on MTV?
    U bet or if u dont agree I’ll ask him on my way to hell….
    e-books-yuck….u know what a book is?
    not just cellulose….n being green n holding a er an e-book….what about the ecological damage an e book does…power…manufacturing…oh i forgot oooh bama wants 2 create new green jobs…so this is one of them.
    Why why why do we forget our modern poets….Dylan, Cohen, Radiohead, so many of them.
    They would never ever want to manufacture a national anthem….anthema….a nobel prize is just like a condom…protection from criticism….when u are great…have a great hard on…wear a nobel…er condom.
    Btw who institutited the nobel prize?
    Our fried Alfred Nobel.
    Do i have to explain his claim to fame?
    Vitriol….so much….just on my way to heaven…hell…just in between…
    Just listening to Pink Floyd…oh by the way which one is Pink…
    Shine on u crazy Diamond

  • Monica Burns // Feb 12, 2009 at 9:12 am


    An interesting perspective, and I understand the vitriol given your company does premedia . With any company there will be damage of some sort. It’s inevitable. The trick is to minimize the damage, even eliminate it if possible. But I think the damages to the environment might weigh more heavily in favor of eBooks being the greener product, given the need for inks, paper, cleaning fluid for presses, oil to keep gears running smoothly, etc.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I love print books and I love eBooks. They’re commodities that meet specific needs of mine and others.

    I do not believe print will go away, but I do see eBooks as an economical means for global distribution. I also see the model evolving, and it’s evolving quickly. I think companies who modify their current success models to embrace rather than reject eBooks will see their businesses grow, not contract. And I know about contraction. It’s why I’m not rich. I didn’t bother to buy Microsoft when it was about $15-20 a share. I thought WordPerfect would reign forever. I’m still having a wall banging moment. LOL

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