Why authors should care how customers read your ebooks

Why should you care how customers read your ebooks, what devices they use to read them on, what formats and apps, and what retailers they buy or borrow from? You might think these facts are more useful for book industry folks, but in fact there are many insights of use to authors themselves.

In March 2015, Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book podcast featured a panel of experts from Digital Book World who revealed what they’ve learned from the behavior of the reading public who own and read on electronic devices. I listened to it with some attention to what I might do as an author to get my books in front of more readers, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In the panel, provocatively titled, They Know What You Read, the panelists were brilliantly moderated, as always, by the CCC’s Chris Kenneally, about consumer reading behavior across multiple devices. For example, they revealed whether fans of fiction read differently than non-fiction aficionados. They also discussed how much reading of English goes on in non-English-speaking countries. I predict that this part of the discussion will certainly motivate you to distribute internationally.

The panelists are senior and have access to a lot of data:

  • Micah Bowers, Co-Founder and CEO, Bluefire
  • David Burleigh, Director of Marketing & Communication, OverDrive
  • Jared Friedman, Co-founder & CTO, Scribd
  • Michael Tamblyn, President & Chief Content Officer, Kobo

I found David Burleigh’s insights particularly interesting as earlier this week I posted a blog on how self-published authors can get into libraries. Burleigh works for OverDrive, which is the engine that supplies libraries in the USA with ebooks. In particular, he said that publishers who provide book excerpts to OverDrive increases their title sales by up to five times.

Note to author: always provide excerpts.

Even more interesting is the borrow-to-buy ratio. His quote from the transcript:

We also know that, even if somebody has borrowed a book, 35% of them will also purchase a book. So going back to the earlier point I made that sometimes they can’t get through the book in a lending period, we’re seeing fully one-third of people are buyers as well as borrowers, so it’s a great audience to get in front of. There’s millions, hundreds of millions of page views at the library. Some people are looking through the title, the metadata and the information, doing searches. Sometimes they don’t have a library card to make the borrow at that time. Sometimes the book is checked out. So it’s a great place for discovery.

Note to author: Get your book into the library system.

Here in the USA that means getting an LCCN, which self-published authors can do by applying for a PCN. It’s easy. Go see the post.

He also talked a lot about EPUB3 and HTML5 formats for fixed-layout and narrated ebooks, and how children’s book publishers (self-published authors) can reach libraries and schools for use in their OverDrive Read™ app that will play in any browser. OverDrive serves the USA and over 50 other countries.

Note to authors of fixed-layout books: Get into libraries!

Jared Friedman of Scribd talked about the publisher compensation for actual reads and also browses of books in their “Netflix for books” model program. Self-publishers can get into the Scribd reader subscription program by distributing with Smashwords (whose new pre-order feature I wrote about yesterday) or BookBaby, whose do-it-for-you model makes it very attractive to non-geeky authors.

Several of the panelists mentioned that if the reader gets 10% of the way in they are usually committed to the book.

So many interesting facts and food for thought.

I really like the Beyond the Book podcast. Some weeks they can get a little geeky with conversations of interest to an industry audience – the kind of people who make ebooks, who design, who print, who sell – but there’s a lot of overlap. Check it out. You can usually tell by the title if it’s going to be of general interest or industry. Let me know what you think. And are there any other podcasts that give you insights on creating and selling books that I should be listening to? Please let me know in the comments, below. Thanks!

Beyond the Book Podcast


Confused about self-publishing tools and services? I have a class coming up next week on how to choose a self-publishing service. June 24 at 10am PT. Here are the details.