O’Reilly TOC general manager and occasional TeleRead contributor Joe Wilkert has a piece up on O’Reilly Radar looking at a survey O’Reilly recently conducted of its e-book customers, asking on what devices and in which formats they planned to do most of their e-book reading.

Wilkert reports that the most popular non-PC e-reading device, with a 25% share, was the iPad—but 46% of those who responded said that their primary device for viewing O’Reilly e-books was their PC, and about half of the people who responded said PDF was their format of choice.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Again, our audience is largely IT practitioners, coding or solving other problems in front of their laptops/desktops, so they like having the content on that same screen. And just about everyone has Adobe Acrobat on their computer, so the PDF format is immediately readable on most of the laptops/desktops our customers touch.

He also points out that O’Reilly was able to gather this data because it runs its own digital sales channel through which its e-books are sold. When you rely on an intermediary like Amazon to do it for you, you lose both control over the process and the kind of direct access that makes this sort of survey possible.

I’m still not fond of PDF as a format for e-books, but this survey certainly shows that, among a particular crowd with specific needs, the format definitely still has its place.


  1. Where tech books are concerned, you’re also dealing with diagrams, and with code which must be precisely laid out.

    EPub can do all that now, but for a long time, PDF was the only way to preserve the original layout.

    I was reminded of that recently, when I did an object-based diagram of our LAN in Pages, then exported it to Word. Yikes, what a mess. 🙁

    ODF (Open Document Format) and ePub are definitely the way to go.

  2. Given a choice of PDF, ePub and Mobi, of course PDF is going to come out on top for O’Reilly given the ubiquity of PDF readers on the desktop and laptop machines that their audience will be using to do their jobs when they want to refer to the books. The compelete non-ubiquity of ePub and Mobi readers by comparison is stark.

    …of course straight-up ‘folder full of HTML’ versions their books — matching the specifications and standards documents and supplied documentation for tools and technologies the books are about — you would have thought would be the actual best-fit for their audience. But then again they don’t sell such thing.

  3. Got to agree with Robert on this one. I bought a 10″ touch pad device primarily for reading PDFs (I’m a techie, and long time O’Reilly customer), and I couldn’t be happier. I love my Kindle 3, but not for technical or scientific books where layout matters. In Aldiko on an Android tablet, I have a perfect solution.

    HTML is capable of great display too, but most HTML book “designers” are not. 🙁

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