Since the dawn of the e-book era, we have yet to see a staggeringly positive correlation between its perceived novelty, namely consumer preference for convenience and accessibility, and actual e-book sales throughout the US. According to a study conducted by Pew Research, “Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits. Most people who read e-books also read print books, and just 4% of readers are “e-book only.” While this finding is somewhat jarring, it also sheds light onto one very important question that the publishing industry at large should ask itself: What stands in the way of making digital content consumption the preference of the majority?
While Pew’s findings could simply suggest a slow, albeit gradual adoption to the e-book format, it doesn’t seem likely that apprehension is the mother of all forces pushing consumers against the digital grain. Instead, it could reveal something much more interesting in the way of consumer behavior; the importance of exclusivity. Regardless of the type of content, whether it’s virtual, digital, 3D, interactive or otherwise, consumers want a unique experience that can only be achieved by purchasing that one product – not buying the book, the e-book, the e-reader, or all the above. So far, publishers have yet to capitalize on this notion that the e-book is its own form of media, not just some cheap print book spinoff.
What is so proprietary about e-books aside from convenience and affordability? What will convince the 52% of Americans who still only read print books to jump ship? So far those two factors haven’t been enough to sway the masses, but incorporating multimedia and enhancing the reading experience itself could very well change the game. Adding this sort of experiential value to digital content sets it apart from the static familiarity of reading a print book, at least by today’s standards, making it a more appealing and worthwhile purchase for the consumer.
Audio, visual and interactive components could enhance the overall reading experience and might just be the ‘special something’ publishers throw into the mix to establish a more loyal customer-base. The audiobook market, for example, has benefited from the increased popularity of mobile devices, as audiobooks are often seen as a ‘relatively cheap discretionary purchase,’ which consumers can still afford on tight budgets. Over the past few years, audiobook sales have grown at “…an annualized rate of 12 percent to $1.6 billion from 2008-2013,” suggesting that consumers are still willing to dish out smaller but more incremental payments for multimedia content.
Authors have also been keen to pick up on this trend and have started to write content that is tailored to be read digitally. Janet Dieman, author of Logan Goes to China, recently wrote a series of seven travel books for children that have been designed to be read exclusively on a mobile device. Dieman further underlines the importance of creating a unique user experience by crafting the book itself in such a way that “no two readers will follow identical paths through its 67 pages,” due to its open-ended interactivity. Tech startups like Beneath The Ink are also capitalizing on this trend by providing authors with a platform to embed content within the text itself. Beneath The Ink allows authors to add audio, video and imagery to their content, while also providing unique features like character insights and etymology, which readers can access whenever they choose.
HarperCollins Canada also just announced a move towards multimedia content with an announcement that they will soon be publishing a multimedia serialized e-book that will combine songs, text and visual components. In this instance, front man Jay Malinowski of Canadian rock group Bedouin Soundclash pitched the idea to Steve Osgoode, VP of Digital Product at HarperCollins Canada. Osgoode liked the idea of “…integrating all these elements of the story he was trying to tell in illustration and music and also writing this narrative that would sort of encompass it all.”
By tapping into the potential that multi-media content offers its viewers and readers, publishers will be able to definitively market the unique benefits of purchasing e-books to their consumers. Without these added features, we might expect it to take quite a bit longer for people to make the full switch over to ‘e-book only’ readership. As long as publishers continue to prove that e-books offer an experience unparalleled to the print book, these two mediums will continue to distance themselves from one another, and as a result, e-books should hopefully see the rise in sales that we’ve been long hoping for.