A report last week in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that unlike most other trends in electronica, the steady rise of electronic reading (on dedicated e-reading devices) is not being driven by the frantically fickle consumer habits of teenagers and twenty-somethings.
From the Inquirer:
"Makers of e-books are stingy with their numbers, and industry watchdogs disagree, but some say a large proportion of early e-book owners - up to 66 percent in some surveys - are older than 40, with a "sweet spot" in the 35-to-54 range."
The piece also notes that while e-books are only about 3% of the market right now, they are showing some remarkable growth:
"E-sales rocketed to $117.8 million through April of this year, at an annual rate double 2009's. Americans now own an estimated 2.8 million e-readers..."
I think this is good news for the writing and publishing industry. Speaking from some small experience, if there's one thing the over-forty crowd knows how to do, it's sitting quietly (often combined with reading).
Since opening my own Kobo account and picking up one of their e-readers, I have found that I both buy and read more books than I used to. I continue to buy the physical books that I enjoy collecting, and use Kobo to buy and read e-books that most likely would not have made it my home shelf in physical form. With the flexibility of the e-reader interface, the everywhere-availability of the content (the same books that are loaded on my e-reader are also available to me on my iPhone), I am suddenly and casually never without something interesting to read.
The middle-aged demographic may also bring a built-in piracy resistance to the e-book market. Not only do over-forties have the disposable income to pay for lots of books, their (sigh, our) age-bracket have likely retained an all-important pre-digital respect for the value of creative content.
Other factors arming the book trade against pirates:
Lots of free public domain e-book content is available for those who aren't quite ready to crack the wallet, and most e-tailers have been clever enough to offer loss-leader free content on their devices and in their e-tailing stores.
Price variations in e-books seem to make sense. Ubiquitous bestsellers are discounted to extremely attractive price points, making it easy to pull the trigger on an impulse buy. Obscure titles cost more but are available, which is a victory in itself.
Most e-reading services, like Kobo and Kindle and Nook, bundle the reading device and bookstore experiences together so seamlessly, the consumer may actually have to work harder for a pirated book than for a legal one. With some of the fancier wifi-enabled devices, happy readers don't even have to leave their chairs to buy their next book.
Combine availability, price-flexibility, a growing market of consumers willing to spend money, with ease of use... and the picture is almost the reverse of the music industry's disastrous digital debut.
Obviously, none of this addresses the new pressures on independent bookstores from the rise in e-reading, but there are hopeful signs on that front as well. Here, for instance... and here.