Europe picking up speed in eBook adoption

Research reveals that European countries lag behind the US in mass-market acceptance of eBooks and eReaders, but the market is picking up speed.

Consumers in general are amenable to eBooks and eReaders, but European consumers in particular may not have a clear picture of the benefits offered by digital books, according to a study from PwC. European publishers, too, are more likely to express doubts about the benefits of digital transformation.

'Turning the Page: The Future of eBooks' examines consumers' attitudes to digital reading based on a survey of 1000 online users in the United States, UK, the Netherlands and Germany and focuses on mass-market publishing rather than on specialist or academic titles. It also examines publishers' views on the challenges and opportunities offered by ebooks.

Not surprisingly, eBooks tend to be purchased by younger, well-educated adult males, while non-buyers tend to be older and female. The report finds that about one-third of Germans surveyed had not heard of an eReader, compared to fewer than one-fifth of interviewees from the US, UK and the Netherlands who were unfamiliar with the devices.

7% of survey participants in the US own an eReader, compared to 3% in the UK, 2% in Germany and 1% in the Netherlands. Of course this difference in uptake isn't surprising, given that the most popular mass-market eReader, the Kindle, only launched internationally in October 2009 and that many more eBooks are available in English than in other languages at present.  However the market is picking up speed: 20% of respondents in the US, 17% in the UK, 14% in Germany and 7% in the Netherlands said that they purchased at least one ebook last year (and are often using their computer for reading eBooks).

The report also identifies differences in the criteria that consumers in different countries feel are important for eReaders. ‘Look and feel' is an important aspect in the Netherlands and Germany, whereas consumers in the UK and US particularly value having being able to choose from a wide range of eBook titles.

The survey polled respondents' preferences for dedicated eReaders versus tablet devices such as the iPad. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the consumers surveyed (63% of respondents in the UK and the Netherlands, and 61% in Germany) said that they would prefer a dedicated reader over a multi-function device. It will be interesting to see if this attitude changes as the iPad and other tablets gain ubiquity and people become more familiar with their capabilities.

However for both eReaders and iPads the report finds a gap between the number of people interested in the devices, and those who are making specific plans to buy one. 47% of respondents in the Netherlands, 53% in Germany and 61% in the UK are interested in buying an iPad, whereas interest in buying an eReader stands at 58% in Germany and the Netherlands and 68% in the UK. However only 1% (Netherlands) to 3% (UK) said that they intend to buy an iPad in the next six months, and only 3% (Germany and Netherlands) to 5% (UK) would buy an eReader in the same period. (The report specifically asked about iPads rather than about more generic tablet devices.)

As the report points out, there are marked differences between mass-market, consumer publishing and specialist interest and scientific publishing where eBooks in various formats are already well established.

Looking to the future, the report notes that the market development displayed in the US shows what is possible in Europe. It predicts that prices for eReaders will fall, and colour screens will become commonplace. Tablets will continue to develop, becoming lighter and with a longer battery life, however they will not replace dedicated eReaders. The report also predicts that tablets will take the place of printed magazines and newspapers, especially for men and young adults.

‘Turning the Page: The Future of eBooks' is available to download here.   

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