Look What Santa Brought

23 01 2012

Every year there is one big item that captures everyone’s shopping fancy. Sometimes it’s a toy. Sometimes it’s a digital camera or LCD TV.

And this last year it was the tablet/ereader. Thanks to an enormous sales spurt in the last month, nearly one-third of Americans own one.

The distinction may appear to be mere semantics, but it is really based in technological difference. Tablets have full web functionalities (and some with many computer capabilities), whereas ereaders are just that: an electronic display for books. Still, the fact that such a huge spike in market penetration occurred in only one month attests to their popularity. We’re talking millions of units sold. Basically, there are about 90 million of these handy little things now in Americans’ hands, purses and backpacks.

And it signals an enormous paradigm shift among us.

I started with a basic Amazon Kindle a few years ago, but then in April 2010 switched to the iPad. It was just as life-changing for me as was my first iPhone. I now keep both the phone and tablet within a foot of me when I sleep. I read the paper, books and magazines. I check email. I post article links to the MediaBuffs Delicious site. And all long before the sun comes up.

Furthermore, I have found myself having the same conversation with many other tablet owners: I find myself not using the computer as much as I once did.

Hallelujah. Can I get an amen?

The downside is that anyone still trying to make a living by selling books had better start looking for work…unless you also have ebooks on your menu. \

That’s not to say that tangible books will ever go away. Many still swear by them, and loathe the very introduction of the Kindle. But books are just the latest (and perhaps last) of the media formats we all consume to go digital. Music and movies are well down this path. Books, however, have proven to be a very different animal. As evidenced by the studies Dr. Drumheller and I have done to discern exactly why people read books, we can say that it’s complicated. Among the six motives we have found thus far are Relaxation, Pass Time, Self-Improvement, escape, Excitement and Loneliness Cure. While a read could certainly satisfy any or all of these motives with an ereader, we appreciate the fact that the reading activity is very nuanced and far more complex than say simply listening to music. Some people simply like the tactile feel of a book, much like a handful of music enthusiasts still prefer vinyl.

But for those companies slow to hitch their wagon to this train, the writing (and reading) on the wall is not good. While some may forever resist ebooks (and ereaders), the recent sales surge indicates a tipping point may have already occurred, or is about to. Local retailer chain Hastings has been slow to move in this direction, having only recently released an app for reading ebooks. They currently sell selected ereaders manufactured by other vendors. Their free app (Readmor) purports to work across ebook platforms, but users must actually go online to create an account. The goal, of course, is to entice readers with the cross-platform functionality, and then convert them by selling them digital books that Hastings now carries.

That 71% of us still don’t yet own a tablet or ereader may still work to Hasting’s advantage, and thus I am not betting my savings on it.

But for the 29% of us who now have Fire (or Nook, or iPad…), we have turned the page. It presents new opportunities for marketers, and it also present new research angles for Dr. Drumheller and me. We hope to launch a study later this year specifically among those who use tablets and ereaders to determine what differences may exist compared to the general population. Until then, I go to sleep at night knowing that my shelves are not going to become any more crowded than they already are.

And that the owls in Oregon may be able to hang onto that tree a little longer.

Dr “Read All About It” Gerlich


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