Open question: Do you trust market research surveys?

A deluge of recent ebook and ereader research raises a host of methodology questions.

open questionAs recently as last year, actual information about ebook consumers was nearly impossible to come by. But lately, throw a virtual rock in any direction and you’re likely to hit an ereading or ebook research report. Just yesterday Forrester released their latest such report, including very reportable and re-tweetable highlights such as:

  • 2010 will end with $966 million in ebooks sold to consumers.
  • By 2015, the industry will have nearly tripled to almost $3 billion, a point at which the industry will be forever altered.
  • Current ebook readers in the survey expect an average of 51 percent of the books they read will be ebooks
  • Four in 10 people who own or expect to buy an ereader shop at Amazon for physical books.
  • Exactly 50 percent of people who bought an ebook in the past month have bought ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store.

On the same day, French management consultants Bain + Company reported that by 2015 between 15-20 percent of the book reading public will own electronic devices, and up to 25 percent of books will be sold in digital form. This nice sound bite was included with their press release: “Experimenting with new formats — non-linear, hybrid, interactive or social — is where opportunity lies.”

These are just the tips of the e-iceberg. The data and research are coming at an unprecedented pace from all manner of organizations, associations, private firms, and individuals.

Studies are great. Data is awesome. The ebook market has gone without much of either for far too long. But, could it be that in our thirst for consumer ereading information, we’re drinking down all this newly available data without stopping to check exactly what’s in it? The temptation with market research is to read the cherry-picked bullet points and stop there. We need to look closer. Sometimes the small print says a whole lot more than the sound bites. It’s important to understand the methodology behind the results, including factors such as:

  • How well-defined is the target population?
  • Is the sample being studied random?
  • How did the research group chose its random sample?
  • Was the sample size large enough to produce meaningful results?
  • Are the questions unbiased?

We’ve banged lightly on this drum before, but we thought it’d be nice, given so many new study summaries being released of late, to open up the topic for discussion.

So here goes:

Do you trust market research surveys? What would you need to know in order to make a key business decision based on survey results?

Feel free to chime in through the comments area. You’re also welcome to join us on Thursday during our first TOC LinkedIn Open House discussion, hosted by’s Jeevan Padiyar. If you’re not already a member of TOC’s LinkedIn Group, it’s easy to sign up.

Also of interest: “eReading Survey Findings and Research: A Look Behind the Numbers,” a TOC 2011 panel to be moderated by Sarah Weinman.

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