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By Michael Weinstein | for Book Business

As we all know, the new norm is that in the next week there will be recorded a big surge in purchases in e-book reading hardware (including tablets, which are not just for reading). This will be followed, of course, by a surge in purchases of e-books.

But what about between the surges? What’s the new level of purchase? The assumption is certainly that each surge builds on itself to increase the overall level of e-book use and purchase … is this true?

Before this surge hits, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at just a couple of the countless reporting of statistics and opinions, and also at something that might have a big post-surge impact.

Starting with the recent past—Digital Book World recently discussed sales figures from the AAP. In 2012, children’s e-book sales went up 475.1 percent in January and 177.8 percent in February, but pulled back to “only” 50 percent by August. Sales for adult trade e-books were up 34 percent. Would you like to own a business that settled down to a 50 percent increase? Me, too.

By the way, through August, adult e-books were 21 percent of revenue; children’s e-books were 13 percent.

Anybody want to guess numbers for the next two months? I would bet that we see similar numbers to last January and February. Not to beat this surge metaphor to death, but the water has risen and it ain’t going down.

Looking forward, Book Business magazine recently reported on the results of a new study by Simba Information. While I do not have the $1,295 needed to purchase “The iPad and Its Owner: Key Trends and Statistics 2013” (and even if I did … ), I thought the summary was interesting enough.

Cutting to the chase—one in five U.S. adults owns an iPad and, they project, “within five years tablet owners will outnumber print book buyers.” It was just 2009 when Simba had reported that the most popular e-book reader was the personal computer. A really interesting point made by Michael Norris, senior analyst at Simba Information’s Trade Books Group, is that “books lost their portability advantage with the tablet.”

All of you print lovers and print sellers, take a breath. Norris also firmly believes that this is not the end of print. As we already know, iPad owners tend not to use them to read e-books (once again, I’m out of the norm). Also, iPad owners buy more of everything than the general population, including print books.

Norris also points out that consumers find some things about print very valuable, and that there are untapped opportunities for print and digital distribution to work together. He sees possibilities in learning from digital marketing to combine the two.

I have seen Michael Norris speak, and I think that Simba and he have valuable opinions … and not just because he agrees with me that print is not dead. But the estimated timeframe for iPad buyers overtaking print buyers was a surprise to me. That will be only eight years from people reading e-books primarily on desktops to iPads outselling print.

Finally, I’m really curious to see what happens with Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, an unlimited digital offering for children, aimed at kids from three to eight years old. For a monthly fee, kids get unlimited access to e-books, movies, apps, games, etc. All, of course, are screened to be “age-appropriate.”

It’s kind of a version of Amazon Prime for little kids. (Hey, hook ‘em early, right?)

The e-book part is, of course, particularly interesting. Participating publishers include Chronicle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and others. According to PaidContent.org, Amazon is ahead of competitors like Bookboard, Ruckus Reader, and Scholastic’s Storia in “variety of offerings and the price.”

Of course, Amazon being Amazon, you need to own one of the newer Kindle Fires for this to work; it won’t even work on an older Kindle Fire. And with the number of Kindle Fires sure to be sold this month, I suspect that this is bound to be a big factor in getting e-books in kids’ hands.

It will be interesting to see, a year from now, just how much that figure of 13 percent for children’s books has gone up.

* This article originally appeared on the website of Book Business magazine.


Michael Weinstein for Book Business magazineAbout the Author: Michael Weinstein is a member of the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and has 35 years experience in production, manufacturing, content management and change management.

He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins. In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.

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