On PaidContent, Laura Hazard Owen reports on some interesting findings from a Twitter discussion about e-book buyer behavior based on comments from book industry research organization representatives. The research reps suggest that limits on e-book sharing are limiting e-book adoption.

The reps point out that consumers really like reading free e-books (about half of e-book buyers read free e-books) and expect e-book prices to stay low or drop lower. Half of all e-readers are given as gifts, but less than 1% of e-books are.

Barriers to widespread e-book adoption are limits on sharing, borrowing and reselling. These issues need to be addressed before more jump on the e-book bandwagon, Bowker’s Carl Kulo said. (Kindle library lending is on the way. You might see the ability to resell your e-books on Kindle roughly when hell freezes over.)

As I pointed out a few days ago, one of the drivers of casual “piracy” is readers’ feeling that they should be able to “lend” books they’ve paid for to friends or family. But in order to do that, the would-be pirates have to be savvy enough to strip the DRM (which has gotten easier, but still requires some nontrivial technical knowledge). The inability to share e-books without having to do all that could be keeping people from buying.

Of course, as the article points out, publishers will probably do something about that “roughly when hell freezes over.”


  1. Format shift is another major factor in reluctance to buy many ebooks. When I upgraded from my Palm PDA to an iPhone, I discovered that Amazon had refused to license the Secure Mobipocket format for iOS. That meant I could no longer access hundreds of ebooks purchased in Secure Mobipocket format. Whenever I wanted to read one of those ebooks, I had to buy it again, in another format! I have over a thousand ebooks in Secure eReader format, now owned by B&N, who refuse to sell ebooks to Australians. I worry about no longer being able to read these purchased books on iOS, if B&N decide to stop updating the eReader app., or extends its geographical discrimination behaviour to previously-purchased books. I have several thousand ePub (no DRM) ebooks catalogued in Calibre, which I access on iPhone/iPad through the Stanza app. Amazon bought Stanza, and haven’t responded to support requests for over a year. How much longer will Stanza work? This doesn’t even go into all the different ePub DRMs I have had to purchase from different retailers (due to geolims reducing availability). They all identify as ePub, but you have to read them with different apps. Borders went under, and we’re told we can shift our Borders DRM ePubs to Kobo. What happens when another retailer’s ePub DRM is no longer supported? Sharing is important, but being able to read the ebooks you buy is even more so.

  2. Sharing paper books (pBooks) is a common custom. The majority of serious readers, I suspect, are the graying baby-boomers who have the time to read and tend to resist any technology that does not benefit them directly. There is less desire to stay on the cutting edge just for the sake of being there. As the average avid-reader age continues to increase, resistance will remain until eBooks become universally readable on all devices and can be shared among family and friends as pBooks have been for decades.

  3. This, too, shall pass. Eventually, the idea that sharing books is a “must” will disappear from the public mindset, and instead of regifting books to friends and family, people will just buy others gift cards. Horrors: People will have to spend money for gifts! And the more savvy people will just de-DRM their books and share them anyway.

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