Consumers Still Soft to Idea of E-Books

Although two-thirds of online users have heard of e-books and close to half are interested in the concept, only about one in four are likely to buy one, according to research by Ipsos-NPD and The NPD Group. It seems pretty clear that, for now, making money with books online still relies on ink and paper.

“In a way, e-books are a generation ahead of their time. Most online users are just not yet ready to give up the feel of a book in their hands,” said Barrie Rappaport, senior account executive for Ipsos-NPD BookTrends. “However, for todays youth who’ve grown up on computer games, ‘reading’ electronically will become second nature, thus providing the e-books market of the future.”

Today’s consumers are also unprepared to spend much money on e-books. An Ipsos-NPD/NPD e-Visory report found that 77 percent of consumers think that digital books should cost less than either hardcovers or paperbacks.

“More troubling in the short term is the perception that online services should not cost much,” Rappaport said. “Potential e-books readers feel that the cost savings to publishers in paper, printing and distribution should be passed directly to the end-user. They don’t see the infrastructure that goes into handling the vast volume of digital content.”

The Internet’s effect on the relationship between readers and their printed books is a different story, however. The report shows that among those who have bought goods and services online, more than half (55 percent) have purchased a book. This is good news for online book vendors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, because the percentage of books bought online reached 7 percent in 2000 — up from 5 percent in 1999.

For consumers who have been online for more than two years, books were most often the very first online purchase they made (26 percent). However, newer Internet users were more likely to buy clothing or accessories first. (Fourteen percent of new users’ first purchases were books.)

“Early Internet explorers were more highly educated with above average incomes. They flocked to books because there was little else available and books were considered a safe expenditure to test the online-purchasing waters,” Rappaport said. “Today, online users are increasingly comfortable with transaction security. In addition, other merchandise has become well-suited to the Internet, particularly categories, like music, also sold via mail-order catalogs and in brick and mortar locations.”

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