Will e-books save reading?

2014. 02. 26.

Adult Hungarian Internet users now claim to read fewer books than five years ago. E-books may undoubtedly help stop the decrease in the time spent reading; in fact, they could cause a rebound, states the latest research document in eNET-Telekom’s series titled “Report on the Internet Economy”. This time, the subject is reading and people’s approach to e-books.

Reading habits

Recent economic and social changes have heavily affected the reading habits of today’s children and youth. Generation Y (and especially Z) was born into an online communication world where the role of books is rather different than before. To the younger generations, the Internet is a major learning tool and information source. In addition, young people’s connections with state-of-the-art technology are changing their interactions with books.

In January 2014, eNET polled regular Internet users older than 18 years in order to examine how reading habits have changed in the past five years. The majority, i.e. 57% of those interviewed, admitted to reading less than five years ago. Three out of four people attributed this to a lack of time. But the price of books has clearly shaped reading habits: one in three people (34%) considers current book prices too high. About 16% of adult Internet users prefer to read shorter texts to books, probably because of frequent computer and Internet usage and the resulting change in information consumption habits. Finally, interviewees also mentioned the following factors that have made them read less: deteriorating vision, less free time due to the arrival of children in the family, end of school years and reading textbooks, and the lack of interesting books.

While 28% of regular Internet users older than 18 years read just as much five years ago as now, only 15% claim to read more now. Within this latter group, 48% have more time to read, and 40% have found more interesting books. Another 30% attribute the increased time spent reading to the entertaining nature of the activity, while 23% refer to easy access to e-books.

E-books: beginning of a new era?

The appearance and proliferation of digital books could bring about a new era in reading. Easy access to e-books is one of the key reasons why many people now read more than before. Even though e-book reading is not yet an everyday activity for Internet users in Hungary, a significant 39% of Hungarians do read e-books. Nevertheless, only a fraction of respondents (5%) are currently willing to pay for electronic content.

E-books – for and against

Portability was indicated as the main benefit of e-books (by 54% of interviewees), followed by easy and fast access (49%), enlargeable content (42%), lack of wear and tear (37%), and environmental friendliness (36%).

But even with the above advantages of digital books, 44% of adult Internet users are still attached to the Gutenberg-galaxy; these people miss the touch and scent of a conventional, printed volume. And one in five respondents considers the supply of Hungarian-language e-books insufficient. This is a critical factor as only 21% and 4% of sample read in English and German, respectively; the rest want to stick to Hungarian e-books.

The demand for Hungarian-language e-books is indicated by the fact that most online stores that interviewees have bought books from are Hungarian and not international pages.

E-books or printed books?

eNET has examined if people chose to buy the printed, audio or electronic version of the same book if price was of no concern, and if they could choose from these three versions freely. The majority, about 80%, would stick to the printed book, 13% would buy the electronic version, 5% would choose the audio book, while 2% would not buy any of the above. The results were somewhat different when researchers asked about buying presents for friends and relatives. Some 31% would not give an e-book as a present, primarily because they would buy a conventional book or consider the e-book too expensive, but 33% could possibly buy an e-book as a gift (even though they have not done so yet). A relatively small group (6%) have already given e-books to friends or relatives.

About 59% of regular Internet users older than 18 do not buy e-books; 10% buy one a year, 7% two, and 24% three or more. As the number of e-books bought grows, the number of buyers decreases linearly, i.e. few Hungarians currently purchase several e-books a year.

About 42% of those who do not buy digital books referred to price as the main reason. The price sensitivity of Hungarians is indicated by the fact that one in four e-book buyers would only be willing to pay 50% of the price of a conventional book for the electronic version. And 40% of those who do not buy digital books prefer printed volumes.

Future trends

In Hungary, reading an e-book does not necessarily mean owning a dedicated e-book reader device. Only 11% of those regular Internet-surfing adults who do read e-books use an e-book reader for that purpose; 23% use a tablet, 28% a smart phone, 38% a portable computer, and 46% a desktop computer. The proliferation of dedicated e-book readers could help boost e-book reading, but the current trend in Hungary is that regular Internet users prefer multi-functional devices that are also suitable for e-reading.

The eNET’s research results indicate that e-books have several benefits that people clearly realise; however, more factors are necessary for the proliferation of e-books. Readers are not fully satisfied with the market of Hungarian-language e-books; this is an opportunity for market players because there is demand for further content.

eNET – Telekom