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Direct sales uncover hidden trends for publishers

Direct channels give publishers full access to their data streams.

O'Reilly direct sales channelOne of the most important reasons publishers should invest in a direct channel is because of all the data it provides. Retailers are only going to share a certain amount of customer information with you, but when you make the sale yourself, you have full access to the resulting data stream.

As you may already know, when you buy an ebook from oreilly.com, you end up with access to multiple formats of that product. Unlike Amazon, where you only get a Mobi file, or Apple, where you only get an EPUB file, oreilly.com provides both (as well as PDF and oftentimes a couple of others). This gives the customer the freedom of format choice, but it also gives us insight into what our customers prefer. We often look at download trends to see whether PDF is still the most popular format (it is) and whether Mobi or EPUB are gaining momentum (they are). But what we hadn’t done was ask our customers a few simple questions to help us better understand their e-reading habits. We addressed those habits in a recent survey. Here are the questions we asked:

  • If you purchase an ebook from oreilly.com, which of the following is the primary device you will read it on? [Choices included laptop, desktop, iOS devices, Android devices, various Kindle models, and other ereaders/tablets.]
  • On which other devices do you plan to view your ebook?
  • If you purchase an ebook from oreilly.com, which of the following is the primary format in which you plan to read the book? [Choices included PDF, EPUB, Mobi, APK and Daisy formats.]
  • What other ebook formats, if any, do you plan to use?

We ran the survey for about a month and the answers might surprise you. Bear in mind that we realize our audience is unique. O’Reilly caters to technology professionals and enthusiasts. Our customers are also often among the earliest of early adopters.

So, what’s the primary ereading device used by these early adopters and techno-enthusiasts? Their iPads. That’s not shocking, but what’s interesting is how only 25% of respondents said the iPad is their primary device. A whopping 46% said their laptop or desktop computer was their primary ereading device.

Despite all the fanfare about Kindles, iPads, tablets and E Ink devices, the bulk of our customers are still reading their ebooks on an old-fashioned laptop or desktop computer. It’s also important to note that the most popular format isn’t EPUB or Mobi. Approximately half the respondents said PDF is their primary format. 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.

I’ve spoken with a number of publishers who rely almost exclusively on Amazon data and trends to figure out what their customers want. What a huge mistake. Even though your audience might be considerably different than O’Reilly’s, how do you truly know what they want and need if you’re relying on an intermediary (with an agenda) to tell you? Your hidden trend might not have anything to do with devices or formats but rather reader/app features or content delivery. If you don’t take the time to build a direct channel, you may never know the answers. In fact, without a direct channel, you might not even know the questions that need to be asked.

Joe Wikert (@joewikert) tweeted select stats and findings from O’Reilly’s ereader survey.

Associated photo on home and category pages: Straight as an Arrow by Jeremy Vandel, on Flickr

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Comments: 6

  1. As mentioned in at least one of the tweets: Did your survey ask about people who download multiple formats? I like my Kindle for reading about code; I’d hate the fact that I also routinely get the PDFs to imply that I’d be happy with only PDF. I use both depending on whether I’m doing a high-level review or a more detailed look.

  2. Good question, Gwen. As you can see from the bullets in the post we were fairly broad with the questions. We see that many of our customers download multiple formats but we were most interested in their preferred/primary formats and devices. Your point is valid though as these survey results have to be interpreted through the appropriate lens. Just because someone said their preferred format is PDF on a laptop doesn’t mean that’s all they do, of course. That’s one of the reasons we also asked about other formats/devices besides their primary preference.

  3. Amazon is moving to KF8 (its successor to Mobipocket 7).

    Publishers are moving from PDF to fixed-layout EPUB (with its more capable features for ebooks).

  4. Rosanna Cantavella

    Let’s face it: new tablet-oriented formats (EPUB & others) are mainly for *passive* reading: for reading a novel for pleasure, for example.

    But if you have to *interact* with the book you’re reading (most people read for work, not only leisure, purposes) as opposed to simply act as a receiver of its content, you’ll keep reading it in your laptop or desktop (which yes, means good old PDF) as you’ll like to write down what interests you for your own texts, to copy and paste quotes and comment on them, for example.

    This can’t really be done yet with a tablet, as who uses tablet keyboards today for serious writing?

  5. Sure, for O’Reilly books, most people are going to use there computers, since they will be referencing the book as they work on the computer.

    PDF is just inertia, I am sure. People are not as familiar with desktop epub readers as they are with pdf readers. And on desktops PDF isn’t too bad (though epub is still better). On a ebook, PDF is basically useless.

  6. I am not at all surprised by these stats. I think most of us spend a good portion of our time in front of our computer/laptop screens anyway, and so reading ebooks there makes sense. I only buy ebooks (I like living trees, not dead ones :-), and I only read those ebooks on my laptop. Now that you can watch practically every TV show, newscast, movie, YouTube video, and livestreamed event on your PC/laptop, it just makes sense to choose to read a book that way too.

    As an indie publisher, it makes sense to have my books available on Google Books as a pdf and Google eBooks as an epub, especially because all the other ebook retailers, including Kindle, can take epub uploads. Thus, I only need to assign one ISBN to the ebook version.

    Thanks for clarifying these realities by using measurable data, Joe!

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