A lot of my friends don’t own e-readers and most have no intention of buying one – for now at least. Some are curious about the iPad, and a couple have one, but most don’t see the point of owning that, a laptop, and a smartphone.
When I tell them that I am publishing e-books, they often ask if there will be a print version. Many don’t realise that you can read e-books on your computer.
But even when I explain this, I can see the resistance. They have jobs where they stare at a screen all day, and doing the same when they get home from work is not their idea of relaxation.
I can understand that. When I worked for a tech company, I didn’t want to go near a computer in the evening.
However, some of my friends are heavy readers, and interested in gadgets, but have shown little desire to purchase an e-reader up to now. Why is this?
For starters, these friends are in Europe – mostly in countries where the Kindle hasn’t officially launched. They can purchase it from the US, but it costs a lot more. On top of that, they must pay a $2 surcharge on all e-books purchased, regardless of price. This charge is levied arbitrarily by Amazon, and kept by Amazon. And that’s before sales tax of 15% is added.
It soon adds up. A 99c e-book is a similar price in the UK, but 17% more expensive in Ireland, 50% more expensive in Germany, and costs an astounding $3.44 everywhere else. For those in the “surcharge” countries (which is most of Europe and, indeed, the world), a $2.99 e-book becomes a shocking $5.74.
While I try and redirect those people to Smashwords, I’m only getting that message out to a tiny percentage of people. Even then, Smashwords have no brand recognition and their customer interface is shoddy. I’m sure I lose tons of potential readers.
My books are listed in iTunes now, which should make things a little easier, but I’m not going to delay the launch of each book by a few weeks just to wait until the title finally gets accepted by Apple.
Aside from affecting my bottom line, all of this, of course, is slowing the growth of e-books in Europe, where the market share in most countries is in low single digits. If no-one is buying e-readers, there will be very few sales of e-books.
But, even in the country with the most advanced e-book market, the US, only 12% of the population own e-readers. I think we are missing a trick here. Most people are carrying a device around with them all day every day that can read e-books, and they don’t even know it: their phone.
It’s the perfect e-reader in many ways. It’s light, it’s portable, it’s multi-functional, it slips in your pocket, it’s cheap, and most importantly, you already own it.
Most people don’t know that you can download e-books direct to your phone. It doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that Amazon have a mobile version of their site, which works very well on smartphones.
I certainly don’t aim much of my marketing at people who don’t own e-readers but do own phones, and yet this is the majority of the population.
Most indies are looking to October with excitement. The release of a new iPad, two new Amazon e-readers, new models from their competitors, and a bunch of new competitive prices should see a surge mirroring last year.
First-time e-reader owners will want to load up those machines and could well go on a similar buying spree to last year that boosted many writers’ sales during the holiday period and its aftermath.
The question I want to ask is this: do we need to wait? Shouldn’t we be targeting the millions of people that own smartphones but don’t own e-readers?
It’s a significant number.
In a report by market research company comScore, by the end of 2010, there were 234 million Americans aged 13 or over actively using mobile phones. Out of that number, 63.2 million were using smartphones – a 60% increase on the year before.
I think it’s safe to presume the smartphone number has grown significantly in the six months since then, especially given the continuing strong sales of both the iPhone and its Android competitors.
These numbers dwarf e-reader ownership numbers. And if we just look at the sales of the iPhone alone, in March of this year, Apple announced that they had sold over 100 million iPhones worldwide.
I know from talking to my friends across Europe, that Kindles (or indeed e-readers of any kind) are nowhere to be seen outside of the UK. However, iPhones are everywhere.
I also know that many of my friends were unaware that they could even read e-books on their phones, and once they tried it, they were surprised how enjoyable it was, and how easy it was to browse for and download books.
Targeting phone owners isn’t going to be easy. Most of the companies doing the heavy lifting with regard to e-book awareness and promotion are companies like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
As they manufacture their own branded e-readers, and want to lock customers into their own stores, they don’t tend to heavily promote the idea of reading e-books on phones.
There is a customer awareness issue that hampers any potential marketing efforts by authors or publishers. Aside from that, I think there is some customer resistance too. Most people don’t realize how pleasurable the phone reading experience can be.
Naturally, their instinct is to assume the screen is too small. However, with the increase of models with large screens, which are perfect for reading, this should begin to break down. After all, most smartphones have a screen wider than the average newspaper column.
Smartphones aren’t the perfect e-reader by any means. A larger screen will allow a more immersive experience, with less page-turning. Those with eyesight difficulties who need a much larger font won’t get too many words per page.
However, for those on the fence about e-readers and e-books, it could be the perfect “gateway drug” to allow them to experience all the advantages that e-books offer.
I have a newsletter which I send to friends, acquaintances, and former colleagues when I release a new title. Most of those aren’t e-reader owners, so for my next release, I am going to sell the idea of reading on phones.
But how do we reach the rest of these smartphone owners? Any ideas? Have you ever tried to target phone owners? Have you had any success?