06 January 2011

Ebook vendors still have a lot to learn about their customers

Overseas media has been reporting on the "millions" of iPads, Kindles and other reading devices sold this Christmas.  I must admit, it was the first time in years of reading ebooks that family and friends started talking to me about getting an e-reader.  At work I'm asked every other day for my opinion on what device someone should buy, but it's such a personal choice.  I still use my old Sony ereader but I bought my partner the new Sony Touch and it's being used quite frequently thanks to the take-up of the device while we were on our extended holiday in Venice.

At a certain point, the physical books ran out and it was only a few clicks on a website to download some new and recent releases.  The interesting thing, it wasn't an ebook/online vendor that was chosen by my partner - it was the US publisher who sold the content directly from their website.  It didn't take long for the words "bookshops are going to die, aren't they" to be uttered as the transaction took place.  But here's where I disagree - albeit to a point.

Bookshops and libraries have such an important role to play for book lovers.  They recommend, they have the items on their shelves, you can browse and you are not reliant on metadata to make a purchasing decision.  There's nothing like picking up the book and flipping through it.  As always, the jacket grabs my eye first, the author's name, the title, the picture, and then I read the blurb.  I flip through it.  I've got an idea of whether or not it's my kind of book.

With ebooks we're reliant on the image and the metadata which can sometimes drive me up the wall.  Released this month often means "it's eight years old but like all publishers active in ebooks, we digitised it and released it as a new edition, technically it's available this month so we can say it's new, grab your attention, and you buy it, yeah lucky us, we get the sale and you get an older book.  Sorry did we say it was new?  Of course we did, it's new in "e"!" Yeah, thanks publishers.  As you know from this post in April 2010 - I don't appreciate this.  Publishers please put it somewhere in your ebook data the book you are saying is "NEW" is in fact new as an ebook and it was originally published in year x.  We don't want dishonesty in our transactions with you and if you want us to engage in reading and support of an author, do the right thing, and put the right information in the metadata. 

Speaking of which, I'm now officially jaded with the ebook vendors I choose to buy from.  And this is where Amazon could teach them a million lessons.  Just because I buy ebooks, doesn't mean your weekly or monthly "new releases" email should be so general it's almost unappealing.  Haven't you noticed the sorts of books I read?  Build up a profile on me as your customer and start targetting "new" releases better.  Apple does it brilliantly.  I can't begin to tell you how many songs on iTunes I've downloaded because of their recommendation - whether it's on purchasing information from their other customers or it's on the Genius programming.  It's A LOT.  And I've enjoyed being introduced to new bands along the way. Of course the difference is it's a 3-4 minute entertainment experience whereas a book can be weeks, but the point needs to be made.

Ebook vendors should be noting that I purchase historical fiction.  Let's nut this down a bit more.  I read historical fiction set from the Plantagenets through to the Tudors.  I read authors who write about Venice between the 15th and 19th centuries.  I read most books set in medieval and Renaissance Italy, particularly Tuscany.  I read fictionalised accounts of lives of artists, poets and writers.  And when the mood takes me, I like to escape to Ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt.  So with all the technology you have available, do I want to know about new ebook releases from Jack Higgins and Colm Toibin representing action and mystery?  Hello.  You've lost me.  And no, while there may be romance in the historical fiction I'm reading, that doesn't mean I want every Harlequin release.  And no, putting them in a bundle, won't entice me either. I do not want the traditional romance genre. And yes, when you send a "Focus on New Historical Fiction" ebooks, that was fine.  But did you need to add all the historical romance books too?  Ebook vendors have A LOT TO LEARN about consumer reading behaviour.  A new ebook release is just that.  But for goodness sake, match it to the reader.  It's what booksellers do.

Dialogue with bookseller.  So Rachael, how did you like the last Sarah Dunant book?  Didn't really work for you?  That's a shame.  Have you read anything by Marina Fiorato.  She's got a new book out "The Botticelli Secret".  I'm sure it's right up your alley.  In this particular case, I've already got the print book, because yes I do like reading Marina Fiorato and I enjoy having some books in print to share with families and friends who may be interested.  Of course, I could have bought the ebook.  Afterall, it's Allen & Unwin who has published the title here - a publisher I admire and respect because they lead the way, particularly in "e" - and their website links me to their ebook vendors.  If one of the ebook vendors had just thought to alert me to the release of the ebook, I may have considered it.  But no, I'm happy to have the print in this case ... BUT as a consumer I would have liked the choice and with so many books published every month, someone needs to help me navigate that.  Getting on ebook portals and trying to search for something I'd like to read can be a real drain at times.  Their searching abilities are poor.  The metadata average.  They don't understand the consumer. 

The hard part is, there's a MASSIVE wave of consumers now jumping on the ebook bandwagon here in Australia.  They have their devices but they haven't really thought about acquiring content for them (the new Sony for example didn't even reference the Sony library because it's only in the UK & US!) Yes, consumers know about getting the public domain classics for free and there will be a zillion downloads for these.  For a while they will experiment with ebook portals and click, click, click.  But what are they reading and how can their purchases be influenced?  Amazon and Apple know how to do it.  It's time for the other ebook vendors to lift their game.  And for publishers to support them with accurate metadata that educates the consumer, encourages a purchase, and more importantly another one in the future.

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