An American Editor

February 10, 2010

Ebook Buying Obstacles: A Poll (I)

With all that has happened in the ebook world recently, I thought it was time to see what readers think is the single most important obstacle to buying ebooks. I’m sure there are more obstacles than listed in the poll, but I want to focus for now on nonhardware issues.

Although several of the listed items may be an obstacle for you, you can choose only 1 and you can vote only 1 time. The poll will last for 1 week. Thanks for participating.

NOTE: After reading comments here and elsewhere, it is clear that for some ebookers the single most important obstacle to buying ebooks is geographical restrictions, not price, DRM, or any other item. I appreciate that and will address it in a future poll. But for now, I ask that you choose among the listed options and simply note in a comment that your choice would have been geographical restrictions had that been an option. Thank you.



  1. If there must be DRM it has to be cross platform. Of course, no DRM is better. I think it’s well proven that DRM hurts honest people far more than it does pirates.

    However, poor formatting is also a big issue as well as cost.

    I recently checked out a mobi formatted book from a library to compare it to a physical book I had. It lacked much of the formatting in the physical book and would have made it more difficult to follow the story.

    I also bought another ebook that had hard line breaks instead of paragraph formatting. It was a real mess to read on any device that didn’t happen to match it’s preconceived notion of the page size. At $15, I felt ripped off


    Comment by Linda Thomas — February 10, 2010 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

  2. […] Rich Adin, one of our regular contributors, is conducting a poll on the above topic. It will last a week and consists of a listing of various impediments to ebook purchases. Go over and take it. […]


    Pingback by Quick Note: Poll – what is the most important impediment to your purchasing ebooks | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home — February 10, 2010 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  3. I went with Poor Formatting.

    Have I ever bought an ebook…

    …where price was greater than $9.99? Yes, but rarely
    …with DRM? Yes, without qualms
    …when self-published? Yes, but rarely
    …with Poor Editing? Regretfully, Yes
    …with Poor Formatting? Never

    If I see poor formatting on the downloaded sample, I delete it without purchase, and I don’t read it to see if I might want the paperback.


    Comment by Greg M. — February 10, 2010 @ 5:33 pm | Reply

  4. I went for “DRM of any type regardless of whether it affects device portability”. Although “DRM for which a DRM-removal tool is unavailable” would be a better description of my position.

    My top three eBook buying obstacles are

    1. DRM – If I can’t remove the DRM I won’t buy.
    2. Availability – either not available, or not for sale to my country
    3. Price – generally I won’t buy anything above $8. Especially since with various offers, my average ebook buying price is under $3.50.


    Comment by Paul Durrant — February 10, 2010 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  5. I went with “poor editing” because it’s the closest option for why I might not buy an e-book, but the problem with that choice, and the “poor formatting” option, is that one doesn’t know a book has been edited or formatted badly until after buying it.

    I’m still firmly in the “prefer to read books on paper” camp as opposed to “interested in reading books on any kind of screen,” so I’m probably not a good source of opinion on this topic … If I come around to using e-books, price will probably become a consideration.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — February 10, 2010 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  6. None of the above. For me, availability is the #1 impediment; price is second; poor editing and poor formatting after that, and DRM at the bottom (as it is easily strippable for those of us who are technically adept).


    Comment by Xenophon — February 10, 2010 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  7. As a general rule I won’t buy books with DRM. DRM limits where I can read a book. Even so called “portable” DRM is generally limited to computers and maybe one or two devices. In addition, DRM basically tells me that the publishers don’t trust me.

    Also, ebooks generally cost too much. Publishers have embraced inefficient business practices for years and they are fighting really hard to keep their models. Ultimately they are going to be forced to change but alas it is probably going to be a while before they do.


    Comment by Bill McHale — February 10, 2010 @ 6:23 pm | Reply

  8. I have purchased a number of titles from O’Reilly ( In my last order, two of the books were well over $9.99 (one at $19.59, the other at $27.99). I believe O’Reilly sells a good product at a fair price. They don’t impose DRM. They allow you to choose the format most convenient for you. They don’t treat you like a criminal.

    All the other things I can live with. Since there have been books there has been poor editing, poor formatting, and typos. The advent of eBooks hasn’t made this better, but I’m not sure it has made it worse, either. Being treated like a shoplifter, even after you’ve paid for your book, thought, that’s new. And I don’t like it.


    Comment by B. Scott Andersen — February 10, 2010 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  9. Geographic restrictions – that’s the major obstacle, and sadly does not feature on the poll.


    Comment by Crusader — February 10, 2010 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

  10. I have a huge library of books. I would absolutely die if all of a sudden they disappeared or were unable to be opened again simply because I didn’t pay something to keep my books readable. Books are for the ages. DRM changes all this and, in my opinion, not right if you pay for your ebook. You should have no restrictions..just like a real, physical book. Imagine a future historian studying ancient (2000’s) civilization where the books cannot be read because their digital format was gone. Paper books shall live on!


    Comment by Pm Russell — February 10, 2010 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  11. given the limited choices here I chose 1 as a proxy for high prices – I bought quite a few ebooks over 9.99 but I also have forgone buying quite a few others at 9.99 that I may have bought at 5.99 or so

    the one unambiguous choice is *drm I cannot remove* but sadly it was not offered in the poll

    geographical restrictions are another bugbear though I would not call it an ebook buying obstacle from *my part* more than *not released as ebook* would be and the intent of the poll was to find why people chose not buy ebooks rather than why they actually cannot…

    poor editing/formatting do not bother me overtly – I read drafts, arc, e-arcs so I give a lot of leeway there; sure there should be a higher standard in commercial products offered for sale, but…

    as long as drm is removable – and now that Topaz was cracked, no major drm is not – does not bother me in the slightest for obvious reasons

    bought, read lots of self-published books and many were much better than any major publisher stuff out there; the proliferation of small presses and the ease of putting out ebooks through Lulu, Smashwords, Kindle DTP makes this “self published” thingy an archaism that should disappear


    Comment by Liviu — February 10, 2010 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

  12. My number one problem would be “titles I want are not legally available.”

    I went with poor formatting, just because it bugs me so much.


    Comment by SarahLynn — February 10, 2010 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  13. I actually agree with Xenophon above; my number-one reason for not purchasing an e-book is that there isn’t an e-book for me to purchase. If I want a book and there’s a Kindle version, then that’s what I’m buying.


    Comment by HaloJones-Fan — February 10, 2010 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

  14. Seconding “Geographic restrictions”. Fictionwise made quite a bit of money off me, until they started with the restrictions.
    DRM only hurts the honest (and non-technical) user, since it both reduces availability (does the book exist with my “favored” DRM) and value (resale/transfer/longevity). Pirates scan paper books, or hack the DRM.

    And I agree O’Reilly has good eBooks with no hassle, in multiple formats, and for a fair price (25% less than paper).


    Comment by ferridder — February 10, 2010 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  15. I miss one essential item in your poll. “Regional Restrictions”. I’m in Europe and a lot of ebooks are simply not available legally (i.e. Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol), because the ebooks rights are restricted to USA & Canada. But because this is part of the whole DRM issue I voted that. DRM is the largest issue anyway… if only the publishing world would have learned their DRM history lessons from the music and movie industry.


    Comment by Tom — February 10, 2010 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

  16. For me it was a real toss up between Poor formatting and DRM. I ultimately went with DRM because I’ll buy a ebook with poor formatting if I can fix it. DRM prevents you from even fixing the story so that’s a real deal breaker for me.


    Comment by Amalthia — February 10, 2010 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

  17. I voted for “DRM of any type”, because DRM is bound to cause problems either right away or later on, impeding you the OWNER of their ebook to reformat it to a new format for their new device.

    Some other things that may prevent me from buying ebooks are:
    – Regional restrictions (I speak and read in 5 languages, but am stuck with the choices available in whichever country I am)
    – The books I want as ebooks are not available (legally)
    – The books I want are offered only in the wrong format (PDF is not an ebook format in my opinion, it’s a screen print format- or paperless print format)
    – Questionable content quality (I have bought some books before that would never have made it to print)

    But the largest obstacle is
    -The unknown: I do not know which format (and DRM) will prevail and if my ebooks will still be readable 5 years from now


    Comment by xendula — February 11, 2010 @ 12:38 am | Reply

  18. Whoops, I posted this at Teleread whereas it would make more sense to ask it here:

    To those who say that the presence of DRM reduces their demand for ebooks, may I ask a follow-up: do you not simply remove the DRM because…
    a. You don’t know how.
    b. It is too much effort.
    c. It is illegal and you fear prosecution.
    d. It is illegal and you think it morally wrong to break the law regardless of personal opinion about the law.
    e. You are opposed to DRM regardless of how easy it is to remove and whether or not it is illegal to do so.


    Comment by Robbie Clarken — February 11, 2010 @ 12:48 am | Reply

  19. Price is the most important thing to me. I will rarely pay the $9.99 price for a book. It has to be from an author I really enjoy, or the latest in a series. If I wait long enough, I can get it from the library in ebook form.

    I can deal with the rest. When I buy, I feel its mine to do with as I wish…….so I can ‘liberate’, ‘convert’ it and not worry about drm.

    If the book is good, I get caught up in the story, and the bad formatting and editing that is on some books just ‘goes away’. At least, I can ignore it long enough to get thru it. Its just not an issue that would keep me from reading.

    There are real jewels out there from self published authors. Some stinkers as well, but mostly jewels.. If the review/subject interests me, I won’t hesitate to buy it.


    Comment by Donna — February 11, 2010 @ 12:50 am | Reply

  20. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by alfaqueque: Ebook Buying Obstacles: A Poll (I) (by An American Editor) [interesting poll]…


    Trackback by uberVU - social comments — February 11, 2010 @ 1:24 am | Reply

  21. I went for the option of any form of DRM – if a book is badly formatted I can correct it, *IF* there’s no DRM. However, if geographical restrictions had been listed, I would have selected that. I understand why this happens, but am enraged by the failure of publishers to overcome this – don’t they want to make sales?


    Comment by Alec — February 11, 2010 @ 1:59 am | Reply

  22. My real #1 would be lack of availability of many titles that I want.


    Comment by Dan — February 11, 2010 @ 3:38 am | Reply

  23. For me the biggest obstacle _by far_ is availability AKA geographical restrictions.

    I voted DRM, but can remove it. I have often paid more than $10 for a book. I have no way of knowing whether a book is poorly formatted until I have bought it.

    I would not have bothered voting if I had not had the chance to express my resentment about geographical restrictions.

    Regards, Alex


    Comment by Alex Bell — February 11, 2010 @ 7:30 am | Reply

  24. strongly agree .. is very important to get feed back


    Comment by An American editor (ebook buying obstacles a poll I — February 11, 2010 @ 8:47 am | Reply

  25. […] An American Editor has a quick poll up on what prevents people from buying ebooks. […]


    Pingback by Stumbling Over Chaos :: Supercalifragilinkalicious — February 11, 2010 @ 12:58 pm | Reply

  26. I reluctantly went with “DRM” as the reason, as I refuse to purchase an ebook with DRM that I cannot remove.

    As with other posters, the main problem I have is geographical restrictions – publishers don’t seem to realise how frustrating it is to see a book you want, and be desperate to buy it, but have a site refuse to sell it to you! And the publishing world say they are concerned about piracy??! Don’t they realise that this ridiculous state of affairs is going to drive otherwise honest people to the darknet, or stop them buying ebooks at all?


    Comment by Irene — February 11, 2010 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  27. I have now voted by selecting from the currently available choices. I’d like to thank our host for conducting the poll at all, as well as to encourage him to do another poll that includes various availability issues.


    Comment by Xenophon — February 11, 2010 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  28. Actually, being in Canada is not that much of an advantage. There are still a lot of ebooks that are only available in the USA, so geographic restrictions would have been my number one choice. Price is #2, but only in the sense that say, “Off Armageddon Reef” is still retailing for $18 or so, when the paperback has been out for a couple of years at ~$10.


    Comment by Caroline Kierstead — February 11, 2010 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  29. I read mostly academic books which are nearly always over $9.99 (or $11.99–I think Amazon Kindle books are only $9.99 in the US). But the poor formatting drives me batty.


    Comment by Kevin Parent — February 12, 2010 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  30. +1 for geographical restrictions


    Comment by Stephen Tavener — February 12, 2010 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

  31. Personally i would have added one more that is a bigger obstacle for me – Geographic restrictions.

    This has got to the point where many books i would love to buy are only available in a location where i cannot buy it because i do not have a credit card registered to an address in that country.


    Comment by Steve — February 12, 2010 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  32. As a creator, I like to keep our ebooks at working-class prices and allow the buyer to move them onto other devices. Scott Nicholson


    Comment by Scott Nicholson — February 12, 2010 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

  33. Price is a big consideration, but an even bigger one for me is if the book is not available electronically simultaneously with the dead tree edition (e.g., Game Change).


    Comment by Rogerinnyc — February 13, 2010 @ 9:12 pm | Reply

  34. + Geographica Restrictions.


    Comment by AprilHare — February 17, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  35. I will never buy anything with DRM.
    I won’t buy a digital book that costs more than a small fraction of the cost of the physical version. Say $1 per hundred pages or so. Since digital books mean publishers no longer have any physical production, shipping, and storage costs a successful book no longer has to recoup money lost printing, shipping, storing, and disposing of a bunch of other unsuccessful ones. This makes it possible and even desirable to make your money selling high volumes at low prices.
    I’m willing to pay somewhat more for books from small publishers and self publishers who are just starting out or less well known because they will have more difficulty getting a high volume of sales.


    Comment by Spinningmind — February 17, 2010 @ 11:11 am | Reply

  36. […] pricing, publishers, quality, value This past week readers of An American Editor were polled on obstacles to buying an ebook. Readers were asked which of the listed items was the single biggest obstacle to their buying […]


    Pingback by Will You Buy This Book? A Poll (II) « An American Editor — February 17, 2010 @ 2:30 pm | Reply

  37. I went with poor formatting as there is really no excuse for just creating a PDF and expecting a customer to pay $ for it. EBooks can be so much more interactive and engaging with sound, realistic page turning – or for kids books animation, colour, read along to the audio etc.


    Comment by Jeanette McLeod — February 17, 2010 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  38. I didn’t like any of the options, but books above $9.99 is closest to my pet peeve. I have no problem with books above $9.99 per se, but I do have a problem with ebooks that are priced way out of line with the other versions of the book. I believe the ebook should match the cheapest version of the book currently out.


    Comment by Kyle — February 19, 2010 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

  39. I won’t buy books with DRM, period. I’m not likely to buy ebooks that are more than $10, but then, I’m not likely to by pbooks at that price, either. (The only new pbooks I’ve bought in the last few years are unavailable as ebooks–or released as free ebooks.) I suspect I wouldn’t buy novels at more than $10, but I could be convinced to buy nonfiction, especially reference works, at higher prices.

    DRM is my main reason for not buying ebooks. Currently, I don’t have any DRM-reading software on my computer; I recently switched to Vista, and it’s enough trouble on its own that I’m not willing to bother with more download-install-verify etc. procedures for ebooks. This means I don’t buy from the Sony store, despite having a Sony Reader; it’s just not worth the hassle.

    I also lean away from self-published books without some kind of recommendation, because there’s just so many *bad* self-published ebooks these days. Too many people think that Word’s spellcheck counts as editing. However, self-publishing doesn’t prevent me from buying if I have any reason to believe the book is good (recommendation from a friend, set of good reviews on a site, a sample that’s big enough to believe the rest of the book is as good).


    Comment by Elfwreck — February 19, 2010 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  40. […] statistics are for the United States owners only. One poll suggests that, while DRM (access control) put on e-books is a huge impediment to purchasing them, […]


    Pingback by e-books: who reads them? « Exploring Digital Literacies — February 24, 2010 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  41. Geographical restrictions is horrid! Doesn’t the authors want to sell to Europe? I love the portability with ereader in my iPod touch, I just put it in my pocket, mumble somthing about doing the laundry and off I go! With a paperback under my arm I never get away with it. I’m really tired of having to stuff my bookshelves with double and triple rows of paperbacks, so who am I supposed to pounce at to get publishers going in Europe?


    Comment by AEJ — February 26, 2010 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

  42. I pirate any ebook that I want to read but cannot get for $9.99 or less. With that savings I go and buy two, sometimes 3, cheaper ebooks. So the Big 5 are losing my sales but I’m giving my money to smaller presses that I had never paid any attention to before. If they can sell novels for $4.99, so can the big boys. I am firmly convinced that the agency model is meant to kill ebooks, but instead smaller presses will flourish thanks to the idiocy of the larger companies.


    Comment by Stacey — April 26, 2010 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  43. I love my Sony Reader. I really do, but I am SOOOO angry that many of the books I want (bestsellers) are only available in the US, not Canada. What I simply cannot understand is that a book I purchased last year is now unavailable for Canadians!!!! What happened?? Why would it suddenly be unavailable?? I’ve talked to Sony and got a very convoluted answer, but that doesn’t cut it for me. I may just shelve the stupid reader until they sort things out.


    Comment by Dezzie — June 9, 2010 @ 10:42 pm | Reply

  44. As a continuation of my previous rant about books I previously bought are now unavailable….. The series “the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”… the first 2 books are unavailable for Canadians… but the third and newest one is available? WHAT THE HELL??????? Make up your mind!!!


    Comment by Dezzie — June 9, 2010 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

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