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Insights from Christmas present(s)

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
The Ottawa Citizen
no caption needed/aw

Different readers want different things — print books, e-books, e-readers — for Christmas, so they request gifts for themselves and buy presents for others accordingly. But whatever awaits opening under the trees of your family and friends is the result of individual buying decisions that collectively shape and reflect market trends, influencing the direction of publishers, manufacturers and retailers.

Reading-related Christmas gifts should be enjoyed thoroughly, of course. But once the “new toy” fascination wears off, consider the following tidbits — informational stocking stuffers that provide insight into how your family's presents fit into book publishing's digital-age “big picture.”

• If you're giving or receiving an e-book, chances are it won't be read on a computer. Bowker Market Research reported in November that the percentage of e-book buyers who read their purchases on computers had fallen to 6 percent in June, down from 10 percent a year earlier. That's a reflection of how quickly and widely dedicated e-reading devices and use of tablets to read e-books have caught on.

• If that e-book's not read on a computer, e-reader or tablet, it'll almost certainly be read on a smartphone — probably on the go. Jeremy Greenfield of digitalbookworld.com wrote in October about a Pew Internet and American Life Project study that found 45 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, “about double the proportion that own e-readers or tablet computers, making smartphones the most common mobile e-reading devices ... .” Earlier Pew studies found that roughly a fifth of U.S. adults own an e-reader, about the same number own a tablet, and 29 percent of e-book users read e-books on phones, with 5 percent doing so daily.

• If an e-reader was on your Christmas shopping list, which one you bought may have had a lot to do with how and where you bought it — factors different for Christmas 2012 than for Christmas 2011. As Forbes.com contributor Seth Porges observed in late September: “It's no coincidence that some of Barnes & Noble's biggest retail partners for the new Nooks are the same massive retailers who ... made headlines for dropping the Kindle from their shelves (Wal-Mart and Target, I'm looking at you). ... If Amazon wants everybody to own a Kindle so they'll buy products through Amazon's online store, Wal-Mart and Target surely want as many people as possible to own a Nook, simply so they don't have a Kindle.”

• Readers' Christmas wish lists are increasingly likely to specify e-books rather than print books. Pew said polling data it released this fall showed 51 percent of Americans “enjoy reading as much as ever,” a number “little changed over the past two decades,” but “a declining portion gets news or reads other material on paper on a typical day.” The portion of Americans who told Pew researchers they'd lately read a print book was 34 percent in 2002, 30 percent in 2012.

• It's increasingly likely that e-books you give or get for Christmases yet to come won't come from traditional book publishers. Greenfield noted earlier this month that digitalbookworld.com has reported in 2012 on “more than a dozen non-book-publishing media companies” getting into the e-book business. And interestingly, given the struggles of print newspapers and magazines, those businesses include USA Today, Time Inc. and The Washington Post.

• Who wouldn't like getting what all U.S. employees of Random House got earlier this month: a $5,000 bonus for 2012? Publishers Weekly linked those bonuses to the success Random House enjoyed with E.L. James' “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its sequels. Yes, they're fiction and thus outside A Page of Books' usual purview — but there's no better example of e-books' burgeoning importance. James' “mommy porn” first became a sensation as a self-published e-book — a format easier for women to read discreetly — before making the leap to print blockbuster for a major publishing house. Expect that route to best-seller status to be more heavily traveled in the future.

Here's hoping you get whatever reading-related gifts you want, and that those you're giving to others delight the recipients. Merry Christmas!

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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