E-Books: After the Hype and Before the iPad

The e-book hype reached its apex just before the holiday season. Now seems like a good time to take a closer look at the e-book market, especially given that this business is heading for another disruption once Apple’s iPad launches.

According to the latest stats from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), e-book usage is growing fast, but continues to represent a very small part of the publishing industry’s bottom line. Currently, only about 2% of American book buyers over 13 are active e-book users.

E-Books Today: PCs, Kindles & iPhones

While 2% is still a very small number, the BISG (which represents numerous large publishing houses) found that e-book usage increased about 25% over the holiday season. Most people still read e-books on their PCs (47%), followed by the Kindle (32%) and the iPhone and iPod Touch (21%). As Michael Mace notes, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t take into account how many e-books these users actually bought. Chances are that Kindle users buy a lot more e-books than those who read e-books on their PCs.

According to the BISG, a slight majority of e-book buyers is men (51% compared to 42% for paper books) and, unsurprisingly, these buyers have a higher than average income.

How Many Kindles has Amazon Sold?

Amazon, sadly, doesn’t give us any hard data about how many Kindles and e-books it has actually sold so far, which makes it rather hard to pinpoint any exact numbers for e-book usage. Based on the BISG’s data, Mace extrapolates that there are currently about 200 million active book buyers in the U.S. – which would mean that Amazon has sold roughly 1.3 million Kindles.

What About the iPad?

While a lot of (digital) ink has been spilled about Apple’s (and the publishing industry’s) pricing structure for e-books on the iPad, the far more interesting question is how publishers will use the iPad (and similar devices) to adapt their content for this new environment. While traditional e-book readers like the Kindle are great at recreating a book-like reading experience, the iPad, with its color screen and fast processor will be able to do a lot more – and readers will expect iPad e-books to be more interactive because of this.

Earlier today, Penguin showed off some of the e-books it plans for the iPad (including DK’s guide to the human body and various travel guides). We can only hope that more publishers will follow Penguin’s lead. We already know that a lot of magazine publishers are planning to launch their own native iPad apps.

It’s interesting to see that Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch are already the Kindle’s closest competitors. As Mace notes, iPhone users are probably less active e-book buyers than Kindle users, but Apple has clearly managed to capture a lot of the e-book mindshare thanks to the third-party e-book apps that are currently available for the iPhone and iPod touch.mindshare thanks to the third-party e-book apps that are currently available for the iPhone and iPod touch.

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