An American Editor

February 17, 2010

Will You Buy This Book? A Poll (II)

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 ebooks.

I was surprised by the results. The two DRM questions gathered the most votes (together 57% of all votes). Interestingly, 30% responded “DRM of any type regardless of whether it affects device portability” and 27% chose “DRM that is not cross-device (lack of device portability),” indicating a near equal split among ebookers over DRM. Approximately half of DRM choosers are willing to accept some form of DRM as long as it is device portable and half say they won’t accept DRM under any circumstance.

The third most popular response was pricing higher than $9.99 (26%). At least 26% of responders are willing to accept DRM of any flavor if price does not exceed that magical $9.99 threshold. (As we know, this threshold was set by Amazon. It isn’t clear to me on what basis $9.99 was chosen as opposed to, say, $7.99. It also isn’t clear whether $9.99 is really that magical threshold or just a threshold currently popularized by Amazon.)

Other responses were as follows:

  • Price greater than $4.99 = 8% of responders
  • Poor formatting = 5%
  • Poor editing = 3%
  • Book is self-published = 2%

Clearly, ebookers are more willing to put up with poor formatting and editing than with a high price and DRM. Does this mean that as long as a book is sold for $9.99 or less formatting and editing do not matter to ebookers? We can’t draw that conclusion — or really any conclusion — from last week’s poll, but it does raise the issue of what compromises ebookers are willing to accept.

But what is interesting is the disparity in price levels. I would have thought that for ebookers to whom price was the biggest obstacle, $4.99 would have been the magic threshold. Apparently, ebookers are willing to pay more albeit not above $9.99.

However, there were a lot of complaints that geographical restrictions were not a choice, with many readers saying that is the biggest obstacle to their purchasing an ebook. I wonder how much of an obstacle it really is. Let’s go to this week’s poll, for which there are several questions, so please be sure to read through this article.

Let’s assume that the publisher of an ebook you have been eagerly waiting release of offers you the opportunity to buy that ebook and will make 1 change to purchasing “obstacles” as an inducement for you to buy it. Which change would you ask the publisher to make from among those listed? [This poll is not intended to cover every possible option. I recognize that for some people the only answer is all of the choices or none of the choices or some other unlisted choice. However, for this poll these are the items of interest.]

If an ebook were released today that you had been eagerly waiting for, and was released with all of the following “obstacles” to your purchasing it, but the publisher agreed to make 1 change of your choice if you agreed to buy the ebook,

If the only “obstacle” were DRM, that is, the ebook’s price was no higher than $9.99 and there were no geographical restrictions,

Although not explicitly stated in the discussions about ebooks, most of the discussion is focused on fiction ebooks, the books that people tend to read once and do not look to as reference books. That raises questions about whether an ebooker’s perspective changes depending on the type of book in question: fiction or nonfiction. So this question is addressed solely to nonfiction ebooks, such as a biography, a history, or a book about computer software.

This poll will run for 1 week. Please participate. If you have suggestions for questions or topics for future polls please mention them in the comments section.

24 Comments »

  1. […] following is excerpted from the full article by Rich Adin on the results of his first poll. He also has a second poll that you should take which poses the following question: If an ebook […]

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    Pingback by Responses to An American Editor’s first poll; a second poll to take | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home — February 17, 2010 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  2. on part 1 of 2 of non-fiction, you forgot to have an option if none of the restrictions are acceptable, so only way to vote is if you are willing to accept one of the restrictions.

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    Comment by cwp — February 17, 2010 @ 4:57 pm | Reply

    • You are correct that I did not include none as an option. I recognize that many ebookers, if not all, if given that choice would choose it. I am not ready in my polling to give that choice; it will come further down the road. It is more a process of winnowing. Also, there is a certain reality that we ebookers currently need to face: Even though we would prefer no restrictions, there will be for the foreseeable future some restrictions. I am trying to get a handle on priorities among ebookers.

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      Comment by americaneditor — February 17, 2010 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

      • Ah, but you asked which restrictions are acceptable. None of those are acceptable, so there is no choice. Geo restrictions, if applied to me would be a non-starter, no available book, no purchase.

        DRM is nothing more than a rental scheme, so if the publishers are renting, and a rental price (sub $1), then I could be induced to try, otherwise, if it isn’t a sale, no sale.

        If the book isn’t edited or the quality is so poor as to be un-readable, why would I buy? Reviews will show this quickly.

        So, all results are skewed and the poll has no meaning. Either someone felt they needed to put something, and checked a category that they didn’t mean, or didn’t answer, and you don’t have data, and your sample size is skewed to people who find the alternatives acceptable.

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        Comment by cwp — February 17, 2010 @ 8:36 pm | Reply

      • I agree fully with cwp, no restriction is acceptable.

        The issue is also larger than just the inconvenience of DRM. The real issue the content maffia using DRM to keeping our culture and art hostage.

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        Comment by Aaargh! — May 11, 2010 @ 11:57 am | Reply

  3. Why publishers cannot understand consumers concerns regarding DRM astounds me. Put simply: I’m happy to trade my money for an item sold by the publisher of some minimum value. When I purchase a compact disc I know its value (to me), and I know I can play that disc in my car, my home, my office, or crunch it on my computer and play it on my iPod in my pocket. The long-term value of my purchase is entirely in my hands. If I am careful, it will last a lifetime.

    DRM on a product, on the other hand, will eventually break. It will break eIther because the vendor abandons it (as Walmart did), or because that one device the work is tied to will break. I can no longer determine the value proposition of the work because I have no way of predicting its longevity. WIthout knowing the items longevity I cannot determine its value–and without this equation all purchases are gambles with the ultimate outcome beyond my control. It becomes a rental agreement where I pay full rent up front and the lessor can cancel at any time. It is difficult to get excited about such a deal.

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    Comment by B. Scott Andersen — February 17, 2010 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

    • Scott, one interesting thought based on your comment has occurred to me. When you buy a music CD or a movie DVD you most likely are already familiar with the content — for example, you probably have heard 1 or more songs on the radio or saw the movie in the theater. But buying a book is more akin to buying blind, even with the previews that are sometimes available.

      As regards the DRM situation, publishers need to come to grips with a single format and DRM standard and refuse to sell ebooks (or permit ebooks to be sold) that are outside that format and DRM schema.

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      Comment by americaneditor — February 17, 2010 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

  4. drm is just that one more step toward reading as rollercoaster ride — a micropay for every page-access. if we’re online all the time, they could do it in theory. not acceptable. reading would simply die.

    the first two poll questions are impossible for me to answer, by the way. because it really depends too much on the nature of the desired material. i think geographic limitations are just stupid; but hate them most if they prevent *me* from buying a book. i’m in the states, so this mainly affects foreign-language titles. if the only option is a translation into english from a language i can read, i’ll skip it entirely and read from the home library, so i don’t get what publishers and authors expect to gain. (that’s why i think it’s ‘stupid’.) re. drm: if i think i’m going to want to re-read a book infinitely, i want to *at minimum* be able to port across devices. and i have no objection to some form of copy protection. otherwise it’s too much like having to get new feet every time i want to change my shoes.

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    Comment by gravel — February 17, 2010 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

  5. And, of course, your poll is so seriously flawed as to make it useless. The ONLY things that matter are: reasonable price (50%) and NO DRM (50%) or at least some form of DRM that can be removed without any action greater than supplying my purchaser ID and clicking a button. Geographical restrictions? They aren’t important because they will die as soon as the publishers get rid of the DRM and see just how stupid GRs are.

    DRM is designed to make a ‘sale’ into a ‘rental’, which only applies if the purchaser cannot figure out how to remove the DRM. If I *buy* an ebook for the same price I’d buy a mass-market paperback, then I damned well better not be saddled with ‘rental’ malware. (Of course, whyinsamhell I’d buy an ebook and give it away is beyond me.)

    As for price, the idea that I have to pay more-than-paperback prices on an ebook when the paperback version is sitting on the bookstore shelf just goes to show how greedy the publishers are. And it helps to create or enhance the willingness of potential customers to go out and download a ‘pirated’ copy. (Funny how the publishers cannot seem to grasp that fact.)

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    Comment by DelphiNikonian — February 17, 2010 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  6. Readers of a site that is super-aware of and concerned about DRM processes will tend to rate the DRM processes a higher concern than a more general group of e-book buyers will.

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    Comment by Anie — February 18, 2010 @ 2:14 am | Reply

    • I agree, Anie. My personal belief is that DRM doesn’t matter to most ebookers — until they upgrade their current device by buying an incompatible brand. For the moment, that means if any non-Kindle owner upgrades to a Kindle or a Kindle owner upgrades to any device other than a Kindle. With the Kindle there is both a difference in the DRM wrapper and in the underlying format.

      But the DRM babel is expanding. No one yet knows how significant a presence the iPad will be in the ebook market, whether it will be a true competitor to Amazon or simply a minor player in ebooks. But what is clear is that Apple is planning on using its own DRM wrapper — at least it is adopting the underlying ePub format, leaving just Amazon as the holdout — and it isn’t clear that Apple will make the DRM wrapper available to all other device makers.

      Yes, the Barnes & Noble DRM wrapper is different than the Adobe DRM wrapper, but B&N is making it available to all device makers who adopt Adobe’s ePub format, so (hopefully) in the very near future all devices other than the iPad and the Kindle will be able to natively access books from B&N and Sony and myriad other ebookstores, just not Amazon and Apple’s ebookstores.

      And, yes, I know that most DRM wrappers can be stripped, but in addition to being illegal in the U.S., it requires more sophistication and effort than most ebookers have or want to put into the effort. Bottom line: I think publishers should adopt my repository idea.

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      Comment by americaneditor — February 18, 2010 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

      • But I’m speaking to your poll and what it might mean. Because of your own feelings or bias, you should not be surprised at all. I was amazed you said you were. In answer to my mere statement that the replies HERE will be DRM-focused, you explain why they really should be and that the others are just not aware.

        So it was never about the people who answered the poll but about what they SHOULD be thinking, because of your own (valid) concerns. While I share them I am not that concerned. Many others have posted they know the problem and aren’t concerned either because they almost never read a book twice.

        The average Kindle buyer right now knows s/he can read the DRM’d material on the PC or netbook or iPod or Blackberry for free without even owning a nook or Kindle anymore, which took away from the fear of being stranded, unable to read the ebook if the Kindle device broke or Amazon went out of business. Same for nook. Don’t even have to do the easy DRM removal now that the app for pc was done (there’s a video that even shows people how).

        But a lot of people do care RIGHT NOW about what they might be forced to pay for an e-book, and a FIFTY-percent raise is on the mind of a lot of people because it IS happening right now.

        The point should be to improve both situations…

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        Comment by Anie — February 21, 2010 @ 7:54 am | Reply

        • Anie, I do not understand the first paragraph of your reply. Of course, I have biases and beliefs, just as I expect every responder to the poll to have. And I do expect that most responders to the poll here will be DRM focused because of where the poll was “advertised” — Teleread and MobileRead. That this isn’t a scientific or objective poll run by a polling organization doesn’t detract from the results. The results reflect the opinions of the participants for whom DRM is a major concern.

          As regards my comments about what people should be thinking about, that is what they are — my comments. I admit to not being a professional pollster (in fact, the poll questions at this blog are the first poll questions I have ever written), but I did try to write them to obtain an objective insight to what the poll particpants think, not what the entire universe of ebookers think.

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          Comment by americaneditor — February 22, 2010 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

          • —“The results reflect the opinions of the participants for whom DRM
            is a major concern.”

            Exactly. My only question is, why were you “surprised” ?

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            Comment by Anie — February 22, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

          • Now I understand your question. I wasn’t surprised that the majority of participants chose DRM in general; what surprised me was the near equal split between all DRM and only DRM that retricts portability among devices. If I had been asked to place a bet before the poll, I would have bet that the number 1 choice by a very wide margin was DRM of any type regardless of portability. Most comments I read are so anti-DRM of any type that I expected (but was surprised and gratified to discover I was wrong) to see that position reflected in the poll.

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            Comment by americaneditor — February 22, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  7. The conversation between eBook readers and publishers (to the extent it exists at all) seems to have devolved into the publisher saying, “Dear reader, you are our highest profile customer, you have invested hundreds of dollars simply so you could purchase our products, and you purchase more of our products than our typical customer. We were wondering, how badly can we treat you and still have you keep spending money with us? Can we treat you like a criminal by enveloping everything with DRM (because, obviously, you’d steal us blind if we didn’t)? Can we price gouge you even more than those who buy paper versions? Would that be all right? How about reducing our quality? Is it OK if we give you an inferior version of our product–even at the higher price? Would you still buy?”

    As Apple prepares to sell its 10 billionth song on iTunes the book publishing industry is still conspiring to strangle electronic distribution, either by design, negligence, or neglect. Being on the leading edge of any trend is always a little frustrating. But watching the publishing industry shoot itself in the foot repeatedly these last few years has been cringe-worthy. The book industry’s best customers have been patient enough. Showing indignation from being treated alternatively as a thief (requiring DRM) and a fool (accepting inferiorly edited and formatted products at inflated prices) seems both apt and overdue.

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    Comment by B. Scott Andersen — February 18, 2010 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

    • Well said, Scott. When my local B&N store manager asked why I wasn’t buying a nook, my answer was that because B&N treats me very shabbily as a customer (I bought nearly 100 hardcovers in 2009 at the local store and he has seen me use my Sony Reader). But how do I, as a book lover, avoid buying books altogether? I could go to the library but I love both reading and owning books. So I’m still struggling with how to respond to the big 6 publishers. No easy solutions for the consumer.

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      Comment by americaneditor — February 18, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

  8. I guess from the url of this blog why you don’t think geographical restrictions are a big deal, for those of us not in north america they are probably a much greater hassle than drm or price because the other two don’t actually prevent you from buying the book you want.

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    Comment by Colin — February 18, 2010 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

    • Actually, I personally find geo restrictions problematic. There have been several books I wanted but which were unavailable to me. My resolution was, in 1 case, to buy it in print, and in the other cases to just move on.

      I also do not consider DRM to be a great problem for me. I only buy DRM-free or Adobe DRMed ebooks in expectation that for at least several years to come I will be able to read those books on any device I buy (I won’t buy a Kindle).

      I consider price to be the biggest problem for me. Not that I am unwilling to pay high prices, I am. I am just unwilling to pay high prices for poorly edited and formatted books that I lease rather than own. By “own” I do not mean DRM-free or DRM-removable; rather, I mean a single industry standard that all devices now and tomorrow will use, something like a music CD or a movie DVD.

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      Comment by americaneditor — February 18, 2010 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  9. I would like to suggest two polls to explore people’s thoughts about DRM.

    Poll 1:
    Assume that a new eBook is released that you want to read and that is offered at a reasonable price.
    a) would you buy this eBook if it was locked with truely effective DRM, that could not be stripped off, or circumvented in any way? yes/no
    b) would you buy this eBook if it was locked with weak DRM that could be easily circumvented? yes/no

    Poll 2
    Assume that a new book is released that you want to read, but that it was only released as a physical, paper book:
    a) Would you buy the paper book? yes/no
    b) Would you wait to buy the book, hoping that the publisher would eventually release an eBook?
    c) Would you search the internet and download a pirate eBook version of the paper book? yes/no
    d) If your answer to (c) was yes, and a legal eBook of this title was released by the publisher after you downloaded and read the pirate copy, would you buy a legal copy of the eBook to replace the pirate copy? yes/no

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    Comment by G Young — February 19, 2010 @ 2:32 am | Reply

    • Thank you for the suggestions. I have made note of them and will incorporate the suggestions in a future poll.

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      Comment by americaneditor — February 19, 2010 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  10. There’s a reading device available that offers no DRM. It’s called a book. Printed on paper. Amazing technology, really, and eminently portable—even over national boundaries.

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    Comment by Peter — February 22, 2010 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

  11. Ah, all is clear. Thanks much.

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    Comment by Anie — February 22, 2010 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

  12. I really like your blog! Keep up the good work!

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    Comment by Student Books — February 25, 2010 @ 2:30 pm | Reply


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