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Is Increased iPad Adoption a Death Knell for Print?

By Brian Howard | for Book Business [1]

New Study: Is Increased iPad Adoption a Death Knell for Print? Hardly, says Michael Norris of Simba’s new report.

Simba Information [2]Simba Information [3]’s new report out this week is titled “The iPad and Its Owner 2013.” But given its findings—including that 1 in 5 U.S. adults owns an iPad, along with projections that within five years tablet owners will outnumber print book buyers—it might have been called “The Rise of the Machines [4].”

The media and publishing market intelligence company has been following trade e-book publishing through its nationally representative surveys since 2009, adding and removing reading devices from its proprietary “device matrix” to track the popularity of different readers as they enter the market.

According to Michael Norris [5], Senior Analyst at Simba Information’s Trade Books Group, e-book reading has come a long way since 2009 when the company found “the most popular device to read ebooks on was the personal computer.”

Of course, devices like Kindle and Nook (and to a smaller degree, Sony Reader, which Simba seems ready to remove from its matrix) changed the playing field. Echoing other reports, Simba has been noticing for the last 18 months that tablets are gaining on these dedicated e-ink readers as the device of choice among readers of e-books. This presents publishers with new challenges.

“It’s a scaled up version of the challenges publishers have been facing for decades: how to get consumers to value your content,” says Norris. “When you’re talking about a device that allows consumers to bring more popular forms of media with them on the go—people are finding there are so many other things they can do when they’re lying in bed or sitting on a plane—the publisher’s job gets more challenging.”

He adds, “books lost their portability advantage with the tablet.”

But the notion that tablets will simply replace print books isn’t supported by the findings. Simba’s report reveals a lot of interesting consumer behaviors. For instance:

-About half of iPad owners don’t use them to read e-books at all

-iPad owners who do buy e-books spend more on e-books than the average e-book-using adult

-iPad owners who don’t read e-books tend to buy more print books than the general population (though, Norris explains, “that’s a lot less interesting that I made it sound” as iPad owners tend to consume more of everything—books, newspapers, TV, radio—than the general population).

Norris is firm, however, that he does not predict a death knell for print books, ever.

“There are certain things about print that are incredibly valuable to consumers,” says Norris. “I have a book on my shelf at home that is nine decades old. It was published by Popular Mechanics in 1919, I think. It will work when I open it up. Print books are something you can pass on, and give as gifts. That is something where the physical book has had a big strength.”

Norris points to the holiday retail season, and its industry-boosting Q4 spikes, as proof that print’s future is not diminished by the rise of e-book reading. He’s bullish that there are ways for print and digital to work more synergistically, pointing to methods from the world of direct marketing—tracking codes and measuring response—to link revenue back to the point of discovery, and to ameliorate the issue of low-margin bricks-and-mortar retailers subsidizing high-margin e-tailers.

“It would be fantastic,” says Norris, “if print books had something on the spine so you could browse the book store—the way we always do—and when you see a book that you want, you can scan [a code] that asks, ‘Do you want to buy this book as an audio book? As an e-book?’ and you can do it right there. That way the book store actually gets to cash in on some of its value.”

And the value could extend outside of its walls. With that sort of system, “the print book retains its value when it’s brought out into the world. Say you’re standing across the train platform from someone who’s reading a book you’re interested in. You could just scan the spine—not only does the publisher continue to bring in revenue, but so does the physical retailer associated with that book.”

But what does all of this mean for publishing? Simba is already predicting iPad owners outnumbering print book buyers within five years. When asked when he predicts iPad e-book buyers will outnumber print book buyers, Norris suggests that that is addressed in the full report (more at simbainformation.com [3]).

Norris projects that by mid 2013, Simba should have a sense of how the iPad Mini is impacting (or not impacting) our evolving understanding of e-books and device usage.

“The future of reading is a continuous process,” says Norris. “There will always be something new for us to talk about.”

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "Is Increased iPad Adoption a Death Knell for Print?"

#1 Comment By Paul StJohn Mackintosh On November 30, 2012 @ 7:33 am

Simba doesn’t seem to progress far beyond the platitudinous. “Does Increased Car Adoption Spell Extinction for the Horse?” The problem isn’t print: it’s publishing. The problem is not the medium: it’s the business model. Print publishers were just too slow to change and too wedded to old ways: that is the true death kneel for print. They had all the precedents of the music and movie industries to work with, and they still managed to screw up. Anyone should have realised since way back that an industry which spawns a standing testament to its inefficiency like the remaindered book chains has a fundamental problem. Thank God that ebooks came along to save our trees.

#2 Comment By -Andy- On November 30, 2012 @ 8:59 am

A book that someone can scan ( whatever that means – RFIF chip?) from a distance so they can see what you’re reading? Serious privacy concerns about that idea!

Might work in a bookstore (aka 3D surround sound live book catalog) but they better turn that ‘feature’ off when the book leaves the store.

#3 Comment By -Andy- On November 30, 2012 @ 9:04 am

I hate typos. Why can’t I edit my comment!

RFIF = RFID (or similar radio based ID system. Barcodes, old style or newer QR codes, which ‘scan’ implies to me, wont work as well at a distance.

#4 Comment By Samir Shah On November 30, 2012 @ 9:13 am

Print is already dead, haven’t you noticed?

#5 Comment By Gary Frost On November 30, 2012 @ 9:13 am

God should not be thanked for the advent of disposable electronic devices. This solvent dependent industry has poisoned workers and poisoned water tables with discarded metals, plastics, and battery carcinogens.

Meanwhile the paper industry has closed its water-based mill streams, advanced recycle material networks and planted two trees for everyone used. From the end user perspective paper books also have ecological advantage as they are not energy dependent, are not prone to obsolescence every few years and are not victimized by on-line ads for unsustainable consumption.

#6 Comment By Dan Eldridge On November 30, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

Samir: I definitely have not noticed! Every grocery store, convenience store and drug store I’ve been inside for as long as I can remember has dozens and dozens of print magazines on sale. Most of the big chain bookstores that are still open have literally hundreds of different magazines on sale. Every morning when I leave for work, I see print copies of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the NY Times on my neighbors’ stoops. I personally get about 4 or 5 magazines in the mail every week. And would you believe that the very company that owns this blog—my employer—is an incredibly successful and very large trade and custom publisher that makes that vast majority of its money from the production of print magazines?

Print’s not dead–not even close–and it never will be. Will it become even smaller than it is today? Almost without a doubt. Will it become more of a niche market? Almost certainly. But it’ll still be here, in one form or another, long after you and I are gone.

#7 Comment By Binko Barnes On November 30, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

In the long run print is most certainly dead. “Dead” meaning that it will only survive in niche products.

When considering a question like this you can’t just look at the current state of things. You have to look at the trend. Look at the rate of growth of digital media over the last 5 years and then project it into the future.

You also have to look at the habits of the younger generation. We older people have legacy behavior patterns that remain from the age of pure print.

But younger people have new norms. For them print is something that they only use when they are forced to; for instance when they buy college textbooks. The next generation won’t even be dealing with print for textbooks.

As the older generations who still think of printed magazines and newspapers as the norm and digital as the upstart age, retire and die the last remnants of print media will fade away also.

You may see magazines at the checkout lane for another ten years. But there is no doubt that they will eventually be replaced by a flashing display where you can plug in your pad or tablet and make an instant digital purchase.

#8 Comment By Frank Lowney On November 30, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

Why confine the analysis to iPad? While it may be a leading cause of print death, it certainly isn’t the only one. There is a veritable army of devices that are all marching against the continued existence of print publishing.

#9 Comment By RockDaMan On November 30, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

Who is (and why are they) presupposing that the rise of the iPad means the end of print? There is no basis for this belief. The iPad and its ilk will continue _alongside_ print as an addition, and not a replacement. I think the majority of the world finds _books_ to be much more affordable than they would just one iPad.

But mama mia! 1 in 5 U.S. adults owns an iPad? That’s a lot of iPads!

#10 Comment By RockDaMan On November 30, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

Frank Lowney said: “Why confine the analysis to iPad?”

Because until recently there was no tablet market, just an iPad market.

#11 Comment By Gary Frost On November 30, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

There is no inherent linkage between increase of screen book reading and decline of print. Book publication indicates this as most titles are released to both formats as authors and publishers work to develop separate, not mutually cannibalizing, markets. There is also not an inherent generational trend since younger readers are perennially more audio/visually engaged while textual proficiency comes later.

Another factor in screen vs. print book evaluation is that both formats have migrated to digital technologies. In that adoptive cycle print is at an advantage as the commoditized product did not require fundamental development of imaging method, display strategy and end user device.

Finally there is an eerie interdependence of the affordances of the print and screen book. The different affordances of ownership, indexing, text parsing, library resources types and other attributes have a surprising complementary fit within a larger book transmission system. It may be that neither will flourish without the other.

#12 Comment By Dan Eldridge On November 30, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

Binko: I pretty much agree with everything you’re saying, and in fact I’ve made the very same argument myself dozens of times. That is, print isn’t going to die – it’s just going to become more of a niche product.

I actually find it really interesting that *that’s* specifically where our viewpoints differ: In your opinion (assuming I’m understanding you correctly), print dies when it becomes a niche product. But I don’t see it that way at all. In the pre-Internet and pre-globalization era, sure, a niche product was a niche product – full stop. But as any small yet still financially successful company with a web presence can tell you, there’s a ton of money to be made these days in niche products of all sorts.

That’s the Long Tail theory, which of course didn’t exist (and was barely possible, with the exception of a few successful mail-order companies) prior to the Internet. And one of the truly wonderful aspects of the Long Tail theory is that lots of people who buy and sell things online nevertheless desire products they can touch and hold. That’s one of the reasons Etsy is so successful, for instance.

Anyway, that’s just my proverbial two cents. I’m certainly not trying to prove you wrong – not at all. Still, it’s kind of interesting that while we agree on where print is heading, we seem to disagree on what that will eventually *mean* for the print side of the publishing industry.

#13 Comment By Binko Barnes On November 30, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

Dan, I think we are in pretty much total agreement. When I used the term “die” in reference to print media I only meant that it would cease to have any significant mainstream or mass market presence.

But print will, no doubt, live on in the enthusiast, hobbyist and collector markets. Heck, even hand illuminated manuscripts have not totally “died”. There are still a few guys out there creating them for rich collectors.

Here’s another example. I play board wargames. Board wargames were once a big deal back in the 60s and 70s before the advent of computers and video games. Now they are completely dead to the mainstream but still live on healthily in a tiny little niche market.

A board wargame I buy might sell 3000 copies over it’s entire lifetime at $100 a pop. Meanwhile the latest Call Of Duty video game had a mind-boggling $500,000,000 in sales in it’s first week of release.

What happened to the wargame hobby over the last 20 years with physical completely buried by a massive growth in digital is basically what will happen with all printed media over the next 20 years.

#14 Comment By Gary Frost On December 1, 2012 @ 5:20 am

Niche suggests a non-dominant sector of a market. That definition would fit screen books, not print books. Comparative units sold and proportions of revenue all indicate print market dominance. A useful illustration would be floor space allocated in Barnes & Noble locations. If any sector of their merchandising is trending to dominance it is non-books; games, toys and reading décor. That trend could leave all books as the niche.

#15 Comment By Dan Eldridge On December 1, 2012 @ 10:16 am

Binko – That’s interesting. I don’t know anything about the board game or board wargame markets, so let me ask you this, just out of curiosity:

Back when those sorts of board games were at the height of their popularity (the 1970s and 80s, I’d guess), huge corporations like Hasbro, for instance, were making lots of money from them. That era is presumably over.

But my guess is that today, there are still a lot of people making a lot of money from those sorts of games – just not huge companies. For instance, I’d bet there are a lot of one-man operations selling collectible games at inflated prices on eBay, for instance. And then you have all the small board game start-up companies who originally served a very small, niche customer base, but still made a nice living doing so. (I’m thinking about companies like Crainium, in Seattle.)

Granted, Crainium doesn’t make board wargames, but I’m sure you see what I mean. And interestingly, in the case of Crainium, as I’m sure you know, they somehow turned into a massively successful company, partly by partnering with companies like Starbucks.

As an interesting aside, Seattle has somehow turned into a hot spot of sorts for start-ups that produce board games and card games, and that’s definitely not an entrepreneurial trend we’re seeing anywhere else in the country – at least, not as far as I’m aware.

Anyway, yes: We are essentially making the exact same points. I guess I just tend to prefer looking at the print situation in a glass-half-full kind of light, because I really, really love print.

So, here’s my question for you: Are there, in fact, any small-ish companies out there that you know of that are making good money from producing and/or selling board wargames? Or not so much?

#16 Comment By Binko Barnes On December 1, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

I used board wargames in my example because it is a smaller niche within the larger general interest boardgames market. Boardgames in general are enjoying a bit of a resurgence. Interestingly, in Europe they are a very big deal. In fact, in Germany, renowned boardgame designers are huge celebrities and they have massive boardgame conventions.

In the world of board wargames specifically a company called GMT ( [6] ) is probably the largest. But my guess would be that they only have a handful of fulltime employees.

Since a historical boardgame consists of a lot of research and design and is then printed on cardboard and paper it is a good candidate for the “long tail” you mentioned. There are a lot of small companies and even one man operations. Some just do the research, design and layout work and then sell the result to the customer as a “print and play” product.

But ultimately it’s an enthusiast driven market. A few people at GMT are probably making a decent living but I doubt anybody is really making “good” money. They do it out of love for the hobby. Outside of GMT the dozens of small board wargame companies probably only support one or two people at a fairly subsistence level.

At the larger companies making general interest boardgames like Fantasy Flight ( [7] ) there may be more profit potential. These types of games even have a section at Barnes & Noble and often feature recognizable themes like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings which would require some hefty licensing.

Boardgames and board wargames are a lot like books in that they can be collected, preserved and played for decades. In fact, some of them come with hefty manuals that ARE books! The one area where they differ is that boardgames have a social element in that you need other people to actually play most of them.

For a good view into the world of boardgames in general you can check out this website: [8]

#17 Comment By Dan Eldridge On December 1, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

Wow … interesting. Thanks for sharing all that, and I’ll definitely check out the website. I’ve always been fascinated by subcultures of pretty much any sort, but this is one I don’t know anything about. Same with LARP – I know almost nothing about it, and have always wanted to learn a bit more.