Publishing News: Survey finds ereader ownership doubled in six months

A Pew report breaks down ereaders stats, Random House and Politico team up, and lessons from Pottermore

Here are a few of this week’s publishing highlights. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published here on Radar.)

More people are ereading

A report released this week from the Pew Internet Project said ereader ownership growth in the U.S. doubled in six months, from 6% to 12% of adults owning an ebook reader. The report, which was compiled from a month-long telephone survey between April and May this year, also showed that ereader growth is far outpacing tablet growth:

Tablet computers have not seen the same level of growth among U.S. adults in recent months. In May 2011, 8% of adults report owning a tablet computer such as an iPad, Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Xoom. This is roughly the same percentage of adults who reported owning this kind of device in January 2011 (7%), and represents just a 3 percentage-point increase in ownership since November 2010.


In a post for PC World, Ed Oswald noted that the timing of the survey might have missed a growth spurt:

What will be interesting to watch over the next few months is whether this trend continues, and whether the release of the iPad 2 results in a jump in tablet ownership. It probably isn’t foolish to assume many who did buy the iPad 2 were new to tablets overall, which would result in a jump in ownership.

And as PC Mag pointed out, although the growth rate for ereaders is impressive, the statistics for market penetration leave ereaders and tablets in the dust compared to other electronic devices:

By way of comparison, some 83 percent of respondents to Pew’s most recent survey said they owned a cellphone (Pew doesn’t appear to have broken out smartphones in its findings). Desktop PC ownership (57 percent) still trumps laptop ownership (56 percent), but just by a whisker, and well within the margin of error.

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Book publishing goes realtime for 2012 election

PoliticoLogo.PNGPolitico and Random House have forged a partnership to produce instant ebooks for the 2012 election. According to a post on Politico’s website, the book series, which will be produced exclusively in digital format, won’t be lacking in expertise:

The series of four books will be written by Mike Allen, Politico’s chief White House correspondent, and former Newsweek editor-at-large Evan Thomas, and edited by former Newsweek editor-in-chief Jon Meacham, who became executive editor and executive vice president at Random House last autumn after Newsweek was sold to Sidney Harman.

The idea of covering events by writing books in realtime isn’t new. As the Politico post points out, the 2012 election books will “represent another step forward for the model of instant book publishing exemplified by the ‘Beyond Bin Laden’ book of essays that Meacham edited and published a week after the Al Qaeda leader was killed.”

Commenting for a New York Times post, Meacham said the project might also be an opportunity for publishers to change consumer perception: “An impetus here is to encourage people to think of book publishers in a more periodical way.”

At the very least, it’s another step forward for traditional book publishers into the instant-oriented digital age.

Lessons learned from Pottermore

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Harry Potter and the Direct, DRM-Free Sale“). It’s republished with permission.

PottermoreIt took her a while, but J.K. Rowling now apparently believes in the future of ebooks. Last week’s Pottermore announcement featured two important publishing elements: a direct sales model and a lack of DRM.

Harry Potter is one of those unique brands that dwarfs everything associated with it. Most Potter fans can name the author but few could tell you the publisher without looking at the book’s spine. Although that’s often true with other novels, Harry Potter is much more than a series of books or movies. It’s an experience, or so I’m told. (I’m not a fan, have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, but my house is filled with plenty of diehards who have told me everything I need to know.)

Rowling realizes the strength of her brand and knows she can use it to establish direct relationships with her fans. And so via Pottermore, the author doesn’t need any of the big names in ebook retailing. Why settle for a 20% royalty or a 70% cut of the top-line sale when you can keep 100% of it? And why only offer one format when some portion of your audience wants MOBI for the Kindle, others want EPUB for their Apple/Sony devices, and maybe a few more would prefer a simple PDF?

It’s not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan. What blows my mind is that more publishers aren’t doing the same. Sure, you’ll find publisher websites selling PDFs. Some even offer other formats. But rarely do you find a publisher’s website with all the popular ebook formats. Regardless of what type of device you have, it sounds like you’ll be able to purchase a Harry Potter ebook for it on Pottermore. I hope they take the extra step and include all the formats in one transaction like we do on

The other smart move by Rowling is the exclusion of DRM from Pottermore ebooks. Here’s an important question for authors and publishers everywhere: If Harry Potter doesn’t need DRM, why does your book?! If you ditch DRM you’ll be able to offer all the formats. You’ll show your customers you trust them and you’ll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.


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