E-Readers, Tablets and Bears, Oh My

Dan Balow started in Christian publishing in 1983 working for the David C. and held a position as Director of Marketing for books with Tyndale House Publishers. Dan is a founding member of the advisory board of the Christy Awards and is involved in training and mentoring Christian publishers around the world.  He is now an agent with the Steve Laube Agency. Dan works from his office in Wheaton, IL and is married to Carol. They have four grown children.
The latest data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet
Project released this Fall and confirmed in solid data what we all know to be
true…that e-Book readers and tablets are becoming more prevalent in American
society.
In a scientific survey conducted five times since May,
2010, the Pew Research Center concluded as of September 2013 that 24% of
Americans age 16 and older have a dedicated e-Book reader (Kindle, Nook, Kobo,
etc.) and 35% have a tablet computer (like an iPad, etc.).  Furthermore,
43% of those 16+ have one or the other, so a number of people have both.
Compared to the last survey taken in November 2012, this
one reveals a 26% increase in ownership of e-Book readers and a 40% increase in
ownership of tablets in the last ten months.
So who owns these things anyway?
Slightly more female than male.  E-Book readers are
owned slightly more by people in the 30-49 age group, but the data shows pretty
broad use by all ages.  The tablets are strongest with the 16-49 age
range, with fully 46% of 16-17 year olds owning one, but 18% of persons age 65+
own a tablet.
Predicting the future is always difficult, but as young
people today age, they will continue to use technology more than their
predecessors.  The most interesting aspect of these surveys is how quickly
people age 50+ have adopted these new technologies.  People in that group
picked up the technology “habit” later in life than those who grew up with it
and it has significant use among older Americans.
Of course, children at the youngest ages are being
exposed to technology every day in schools with the assumption that it will
even more prevalent and important than it is now.
What will happen to printed books?
In general, digital books are less expensive than printed
versions. As digital sales grow and physical sales shrink, the cost of printing
the physical editions will increase.  Two factors contribute to this…lower
press runs and increases in paper costs will drive printing costs higher which
will need to be compensated for by increasing the retail price of the physical
books.
Those higher prices will have a further dampening effect
on purchasing, making eBooks and their lower prices even more attractive. 
So, there is potential for a digital “tipping point” sometime in the next few
years, caused not as much by the love of digital content, but by the expanding
price difference between print and eBooks.
An even more interesting trend will accelerate the
decline of print books…excessively low prices of eBooks. Readers will consider
a book “worth” $0.99 and so the printed edition heretofore priced reasonably at
$12.99 will be viewed as overpriced.
Authors should be concerned about a trend that lowers
the expectations of consumers to a vanishing point.  Selling your eBooks
at $2.99 or less might give you the short- term satisfaction of higher unit
sales, but as far as I can tell, your bills still need to paid in dollars, not
units!  Training consumers that books cost $0.99 will irreparably damage
the entire publishing industry.  In other words, what you write is not
worth much.  Marketing guru Seth Godin refers to this as a “race to the
bottom”…a race that no one wins.