Survey Highlights PDA Popularity for E-Reading

IDPF has just release results of a new eBook user survey. While highly unscientific, the report nevertheless offers some valuable insights that track what I observe anecdotally among friends and colleagues: most early adopters of e-Reading in North America are reading on PDAs. PDAs are the preferred devices of a whopping 79% of respondents, PCs of only 15%, with dedicated reading devices and mobile phones a scant 4% and 1% respectively. I commented in an earlier post on the increasing number of VGA displays on PDAs/smartphones, which should further this phenomenon.
The “unscientific” ding is because the vast majority of the 700+ surveys came from visitors to two particular eBook etailers, ereader.com (formerly Palm ‘s Peanut Press operation) and Fictionwise. ereader.com markets primarily to PDA users via their own PalmDoc-based platform; Fictionwise also substantially markets to a PDA user base. As the report understatedly notes “the survey pool may not represent industry distribution of the various reading platforms. Well, no. Nevertheless it’s true that ereader.com and fictionwise are two of the largest eBook etailers so their preferential marketing to PDA users is arguably itself indicative.
Unsurprisingly, these PDA-centric users prefer reflowable formats, which can readily adapt to small screens, to pre-paginated PDF. Even if you throw out the eReader.com half, PDF is still the preferred format of just 12% of the remaining responses, with MS Reader and Mobipocket more than doubling that number. Our quite stale Palm version of Adobe Reader also undoubtedly didn’t help PDF’s eBook cred with this group. Well, we do realize the realities of small screens (for dedicated devices like Sony Reader as well as multi-purpose handhelds), so stay tuned for more soon on how our overall platform will expand beyond the strengths of today’s PDF.
The survey also highlights unmet needs for high-quality eReading devices, with 80% rating this important or very important, and 34% rating their satisfaction with this issue as only fair to poor. Perhaps surprisingly, the ability to lend eBooks to family and friends is only important to a moderately low 44% of respondents, which is a good thing given that DRM schemes have made this problematic to the point that 78% feel fairly or poorly satisfied in this regard. Reading out loud and multimedia enhancements are important to only 14% and 11% respectively, while the ability to read in a comfortable font size is important to a whopping 96% – so it’s a good thing that 83% seem well-satisfied with this latter feature (yeah, I know, most of the other 17% are probably trying to read a certain page-oriented format on their PDAs).
The free-form comments from respondents are also well worth a read. DRM gets slammed, no surprise, but there are also some surprisingly positive comments to the effect that the experience of e-Reading can be an improvement over paper (again to this small sample of bleeding-edge early-adopters). Well, it’s nice to see some positivity, and we’re working to make it even better!