Emedia: A View from the End User's Perspective

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Before 2007, the word "kindle" simply meant to light on fire. Since Amazon's release of its Kindle e-reader in November of that year, the product has ignited the emedia market. A new report from InfoTrends, "Reading E-Media: The End User Perspective," addresses the growing markets of e-readers and multipurpose devices such as iPads by questioning consumers about their user experiences with these devices.

Research from the report showed that people have significantly decreased how often they purchase hard-copy books. According to Norman McLeod, director of market research at InfoTrends, respondents said that their spending on printed books had gone down by more than 60%. "When you start using one of these devices, it has a big effect, and in fact, nearly a fifth of the respondents did say that their spending on printed books had been eliminated," says McLeod.

Despite the dramatic decrease in hard-copy book purchases, Ned May, vice president and lead analyst at Outsell, Inc., doesn't think that they will disappear altogether. "There will still be vanity purchases, especially for those that like to fill a book shelf, but I think we're going to see it continue to decrease," says May. "I think there's a notion out there that there's this value associated with holding a book that is held by some but is not held by all. I think publishers feel more strongly about the container than the readers."

When it comes to devices for reading emedia, there is an abundance of choices; more than 40 devices were represented in this survey research. The more mainstream devices, however, were represented a great deal more than their less popular competitors, with the Kindle, Sony Reader, and the NOOK accounting for 85% of reported devices. Multipurpose device use has taken off as well, with 43% of the respondents already using them, making them as common now as desktop computers.

"The [dominance] of Kindle users is just huge," says Robert Leahey, associate director at InfoTrends. "There's just a couple more, Sony and Nook, and after that it trails off dramatically."

E-readers have evolved into such commonplace devices that users replace them as often as they replace their cell phones and laptops. According to McLeod, there is a "cross-pollination" of users that use both e-readers and multipurpose devices.

"On average, there's a pretty fair amount of churn; you can say that on average, about every 3 years a majority of the respondents expect to buy another device," says McLeod.

A surprising result from the survey was that the most popular location for emedia device use is at home. Eighty percent of the respondents said that they use their devices at home, while at a distant second, 10% of the respondents said they use their devices while commuting.

"On a purely hypothetical basis, I would say that the answer must be that for these people, this is really what they use to read books now, wherever they are," says McLeod.

While e-readers are still fairly new to the market, users from the survey are satisfied with their products, with 60% saying that they are "very content." The most important attribute in a device for users turned out to be battery life, with most respondents using devices that have a median battery life of more than a week.

About half of the respondents said that color screens offer room for improvement, and almost a third of the respondents considered it a main shortcoming in the products currently on the market. "There may be more interest in color screens among those people who are users of multipurpose devices because they have color screens already," says Leahey. "So there may be more interest on that side of the fence on color for future purchases."

As it turns out, however, users aren't willing to give up battery life for color screens. "That had a very heavy dampening effect on their interest," said McLeod. "The interest for them to move to a color screen is based on a confluence that probably is not technically possible right now." Leahey sees the color screen situation as a nice-to-have versus need-to-have conflict. Consumers aren't going to pay extra for something that's nice to have, such as the color screen, if it means giving up other important features such as a long battery life.

A quality of e-readers that May believes often goes unnoticed is the use of E Ink technology in the Kindle. This attribute also allows for the long battery life that users desire. "That is an underappreciated uniqueness to the e-reader that creates the print booklike experience that other devices don't [offer]," says May. "People may say they like color, and it is fun to look at color, but their [brains are] telling them it's actually more pleasing and engaging to read in the E Ink display."

The initial price of e-reading devices differs based on the product that is purchased, but the study shows that in the long run, this decision does not impact annual costs. "The people who are using their multipurpose devices extensively for reading report that their annual expenditures on the content are just about the same as what those who are using dedicated e-readers report," says McLeod.

In 2007 the Kindle cost $399, and today, the improved model sells for only $139. While the iPad has a heavier price tag starting at $499, the range of available products makes for a competitive but buyer-friendly market. "The prices for e-readers will just continue to drop, and they have done so very aggressively. That will allow them to be present in the market place in a way that ... an iPod or another dedicated device is," says May.

Regardless of the device chosen by a user, the most important aspect of e-reading is the content. According to McLeod, Amazon has effectively addressed the content question with its massive content repository. The system allows people to easily and quickly download the content, which has put the industry on a whole new growth trajectory. Millions of Kindles and more than 12 million iPads have been sold to date. If past technological innovations are an indicator of how quickly e-reading will evolve, it will continue its rapid progression of drastically changing the landscape of print media.

"We're going to see tablets absolutely proliferate over time, and in many ways replace the home computing environment," says May. "The days of contained print containers may become a thing of the past."