Good tidings: how e books may be changing the marketplace for writers

We recently became e-readers, by this we don’t mean reading devices, but people who read on reading devices. Having resisted the transition from traditional books, we have been surprised how pleasant the switch has been. Apart from not being quite sure that what we are reading and absorbing are actual books – they have no page numbers – we have been devouring them like crazy.

Only one in six readers owns an electronic reading device but their numbers are growing. How do these change reading habits, a pertinent question for writers who might want to anticipate the market for their books?

Surveys show most e-readers, like us, read more. This reverses a longtime trend of people reading less. Amazon says its Kindle customers buy 3.3 times as many books as traditional readers.

This increase is confirmed by a Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults this summer. The poll also shows that people are reading about an equal amount of fiction and non-fiction. Here is how Harris broke it down from there:

Among fiction categories, almost half of readers say they read mystery, thriller and crime books (47%), while one-quarter read science fiction (25%), literature (23%) and romance (23%). One in ten read graphic novels (10%) while 8% read "chick-lit" and 5% read Westerns. Among non-fiction categories, almost three in ten readers say they read biographies (29%) while one-quarter read history (27%) and religious and spirituality books (24%). Just under one in five readers (18%) read self-help books, while 13% read true crime, 12% read current affairs, 11% read political books and 10% read business books.\

(A report in the British Guardian quotes industry sources who say that romance readers are particularly fond of e books because nobody can see what they are reading. Romances are stigmatized in Britain.)

E book devices may also be changing what people read. Looking at Sunday’s New York Times bestseller lists, several books pop up on the e book list that are not on either the hardcover or paperback lists. There is evidence e-readers may be more willing to wait for the books they read, giving books a longer “shelf” life – and for fledging writers, more time to catch on. Readers of e books are also more likely to experiment with self-published material.

Perhaps we writers and editors should all be giving e reading devices as holiday presents! Creating more e-readers could be a long-term gift to ourselves.