What we learned when we asked 3,000 people whether they read books on their phones
While the publishing industry continues to debate the relative merits of print books versus eBooks a far bigger shift in the way we find and consume information is taking place under our noses. The digital revolution in publishing is often dated back to November 2007, when Amazon launched the first Kindle e-reader. Yet earlier that year, another technology company released a product that has had a far more disruptive effect on the world than the e-reader. It was Apple, and that device was the first iPhone. Seven years on from that launch and the creative destruction of the smartphone has created whole new industries while destroying others. The market for ‘smart connected devices’ (as smartphones used to be called before the iPhone) has grown from 53 million in 2006 to a projected 2.4 billion in 2015. To put this in context, recent estimates suggest that over the same period, Amazon has sold just over 20 million Kindle devices.
The scale of the mobile opportunity dwarfs the accomplishments of e-readers, which is possibly why Amazon has since entered the phone and tablet business too. This year we decided to take a closer look at how the mobile revolution had affected our reading habits, and what publishers could learn from those changes. We commissioned research covering 3,000 consumers in the US and the UK. We also decided to focus on reading on mobile phones only. This is because while reading on devices like e-readers and tablets is interesting, the markets for both of those devices are much smaller and lower-growth than in mobile phones. Our Mobile reading research yielded some surprising results, which we’ll be sharing with you on this blog over the coming week. Every day this week we'll be exploring a different aspect of what this research tells us about how people are consuming books at the moment on their phones and what can be done to encourage more people to acquire the mobile reading habit.
Reading on mobile phones may account for nearly 5% of all book consumption in the UK
Today we published our mobile reading research report, which surveyed 3,000 consumers in the UK and US to assess the state of mobile reading in two of the world’s most developed smartphone markets. One of the key headlines from this research was the extent to which mobile reading had penetrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Nearly half (44%) of smartphone owners in the UK and US said they had read an eBook or part of an eBook on their phones in the last twelve months. Let’s put that number into some context, starting with Deloitte UK’s estimate that there are currently 35 million smartphone users in the UK. If we assume that 44% of these smartphone owners read just one eBook on their phone (which is all our research asked to define a mobile reader) that’s equivalent to 15,400,000. Then, if Nielsen is correct when it says that 323 million books were sold in the UK in 2013, that means 4.7% of the total UK book market was read on a smartphone. If we apply the same methodology to the US a similar picture emerges.
According to our research 43% of US smartphone owners had read at least one eBook in the past year. Nielsen estimates that there are 171.5 million smartphone users in the US, so this is equivalent to 73,745,000 eBooks. Then, if we accept the Association of American Publishers assessment that 2.32 billion books were sold in the US in 2013 that means 3.1% of all books sold were consumed on a mobile phone. While it’s clearly not a majority activity just yet, two thirds (66%) of respondents who said they read books on their phones also said they did so more frequently now than a year ago. Mobile phone consumption of books is growing, and publishers and booksellers have the chance to capture some of that growth. As we’ll explore in future blogs, however, before it can grow, publishers, booksellers and reading platform providers need to overcome some serious objections to the reading experience they provide on mobile.
Forget Kindles, mobile reading is all about the iPhone
Today at the Frankfurt Book Fair, we’re taking a closer look at our Mobile Reading research at our event, The Great Debate: How Much Money is in Mobile? And on the blog we’re exploring what devices consumers really use to read eBooks. According to our research, the iPhone is the UK consumer’s top device for reading, with 40% of mobile readers doing so on an Apple phone. Apple’s closest competitor in terms of mobile reading was Samsung, with a reading market share of 28%. HTC and Nokia were in third and fourth place respectively, with 7% of the market each. These are interesting figures inasmuch as they give us a view of what consumers are reading on. But more importantly, they also make it possible for us to compare the mobile reading segment of consumers with the broader market. This allows us to make a few intriguing extrapolations about who those readers are and what implications this has for publishers and booksellers:
- In the UK, mobile readers are more likely than the average to be iPhone owners. According to recent Kantar Worldpanel research, Apple had a 32.1% share of the UK smartphone market), but 40% of the mobile reading market.
- People who read books on their mobile phone are slightly less likely to own a Samsung phone than the average. Samsung has recently seen its UK market share dip from 36% to 30% according to the same Kantar research, while among mobile book readers it had a share of 28%.
- Mobile phone readers were less likely than the average to be Nokia Windows Phone users (10% actual market share, versus 7% mobile reading share).
- People who read books on their mobiles were also more likely to be HTC device owners than the general smartphone owning population.Kantar’s estimate put HTC’s UK market share at 4%, but among book readers it’s slightly higher at 7%. Broadly speaking this indicates that mobile book readers over-index on the Apple iOS devices and under-index on Android and Windows devices.
All this means that the iPhone audience is the reading audience. Apple’s device represents a ready-made opportunity for publishers and booksellers to sell content to a receptive audience that spends money on its phones. If the publishing industry’s objective in investing in mobile is to reach its existing audience in new places and encourage them to buy more, then Apple’s iOS ecosystem is the place to be. If, however, it wants to grow the overall size of the book market and sell content to audiences who don’t currently buy books, it may have a bigger challenge on its hands in selling content to Android users.
Kindle is the king of mobile reading platforms, but iBooks is catching up - fast
One consistent source of alarm within the publishing industry over eBook reading is Amazon Kindle’s apparent dominance of the market. Earlier this year we reported on Hachette revealing that Amazon accounted for 60% of its eBook sales in the US and 78% in the UK. In our mobile reading research, which we unveiled at the Frankfurt Book Fair, we wanted to test the hypothesis that Amazon had an over-mighty position. So we asked the 2,000 people we surveyed in the UK which e-reading platforms they used to read books on their mobiles.
The results were interesting in that while they revealed that Kindle does enjoy the largest share of the mobile reading market, readers have more omnivorous habits than we expected. Our research challenged Hachette’s experience that Kindle is the only game in town, at least when it comes to reading on smartphones in the UK. According to our respondents, Kindle is used by 50% of mobile readers, while Apple’s iBooks is at 31%. The next nearest competitor is Kobo, which at 9% also seems to be struggling to achieve cut-through in this territory, followed by Nook at 6%. Given yesterday’s blog about the high demographic correlation between iPhone ownership and general disposition to read books, it makes perfect sense that iBooks should enjoy a strong second place. As the default e-reading app available to iPhone owners, iBooks would theoretically enjoys a significant advantage over its rivals on Apple devices and the results bear that out. We also decided to break these results down by age group, as this was one of the chief markers as to whether someone was an iPhone reader or read on an Android device. This yielded some results with important implications for publishers.
We found that among 18-24 year old readers in UK, Kindle was ahead of Apple in terms of market share (41%), but only just. Of this audience, 39% of readers used iBooks. Among 24-35 year olds, Amazon maintained a larger lead (49% Kindle, 33% iBooks), but with Apple still representing a third of eBook sales within this market segment. It was only when we started looking at significantly older audiences (55+) that Amazon’s lead appeared unassailable, with 59% of this audience using Kindle compared to 27% iBooks. Yesterday we explored how consumers’ decisions to read on their mobile is determined by their handset.
This data seems to suggest that a reader’s age is a very important factor in determining which e-reading ecosystem they will use on their phone. It also implies that publishers have a choice as well in terms of how they promote and market their books. This data suggests that if you’re publishing books designed to appeal to an older audience then it’s a good idea to spend time and money marketing them on Kindle. If, however, you’re chasing a younger audience then it’s likely that you’ll achieve more cut-through marketing on the less crowded and more targeted iBooks platform.
The biggest barrier to greater mobile reading is poor User Experience
In this week’s final blog post on the results of our Mobile reading survey, we’ll be turning our attention to the people who said ‘no’. While we were heartened to discover that 43% of smartphone owners on both sides of the Atlantic were using their phones to read books, that still meant that over half of these groups had decided this wasn’t for them. We wanted to know why, and what the publishing and bookselling industry could do to convert them.
The reasons that mobile reading refuseniks gave for not reading on their smartphones suggested that mobile reading platforms, publishers and booksellers have a job on their hands if they want to change their minds. 36% of non-mobile readers in the US said they found the experience of reading on a mobile unpleasant, as did 29% of UK respondents. Meanwhile 26% of refuseniks in the US and 21% in the UK said they found mobile reading platforms too difficult to use. Both of these point towards continued limitations in the User Experience (UX) that publishers, e-reading ecosystems and booksellers offer eBook readers in the mobile space. This seems like a serious oversight. App developers in every segment from gaming to social networking pour time, effort and money getting the UX of their products and services right for their users. They know that providing a clear and pleasant UX is how they retain users who are only ever one swipe away from leaving their apps altogether. The above findings suggest that together publishers, booksellers and e-reading platform providers are under-investing in User Experience.
This can take many forms. It ranges from the poorly formatted eBooks, to irrelevant search results in eBook stores driven by incomplete metadata or convoluted instructions to sideload eBooks onto phones. And what it says to users is that reading on their phone offers frustrations and limitations on a platform that is meant to offer choice and convenience. It would be a fatal error for the publishing industry to assume that losing a mobile reader merely means that the same person will put their phone away and pick up a print book. The mobile user who abandons an eBook halfway through will just turn to another app. They will play a game, do some social networking, look something up online, watch a video or listen to music. The phone in their hands offers a conduit to an endless choice of information and entertainment. In 2015, 2.4 billion smartphones will be sold worldwide. That’s approximately 120 times the total number of Kindle e-readers sold between 2007 and 2014. If the publishing industry can convert even a relatively small number of those new smartphone users into being smartphone readers too, then it has a hope of returning to growth.