The ebook market finds its (mobile) calling

Simon Dunlop, founder of mobile social reading service Bookmate, discusses how the ebook market is embracing mobile

If you had the bestselling mobile phones from each year since 2000 laid out in front of you, you would notice a very telling trend. From 2000 until 2007 the top mobile phones reduced in size year on year until the advent of the iPhone. From then on mobile handset sizes moved dramatically in the opposite direction. This change in screen sizes was clearly driven by the growing use of media and apps on mobile, meaning that now mobiles can be used comfortably to read books. 

For some, the concept of using a mobile to read a full novel seems odd, after all, people have only recently started to embrace e-readers. However, the figures within the industry point to the trend growing rapidly. At Bookmate we already have 1.5 million users and monthly user growth is on a strong upward trajectory. The ebook industry as a whole is predicted to be worth around $16 billion worldwide by 2016. 

There are several forces driving this growth. The first one, as mentioned previously, is the size and quality of mobile phones making reading books via an app a comfortable experience. This move to phones has opened up the e-reading market to a wider consumer base, particularly people who do not want to invest in an e-reader. This in turn is changing reader behaviour: reading can become a spontaneous activity while you have a free moment, rather than a pre-planned activity involving carrying around an e-reader. The reading activity itself has also become more social, as people are already used to using social and gaming features on their handsets. Therefore, ebook apps that include social functions, such as chatting and integration with social media platforms, have the edge. By giving readers the opportunity to share their favourite quotes, what they are reading and message favourite passages to friends, e-reading apps are mimicking the social aspect of book clubs. 

"An attractive cocktail of accessibility, affordability and social functions..."

As ebook apps can be bundled into handsets as a pre-installed feature, the potential for user growth is enormous. Add to this a subscription-based model of payment and the monetary decision is removed from reading. The result: people read books more often. 

These changes are particularly important in markets outside Europe and the US. Consumers in developing countries where piracy is rife don’t have a culture of paying for digital content, so ebooks are much more difficult to monetise. By building a sticky social layer with features like author pages and book playlists, coupled with access to ebooks via subscription on their phones, consumers are more inclined to pay: they come in search of a book but they stay for the all the other features.

An attractive cocktail of accessibility, affordability and social functions makes mobile ebooks a powerful new trend in the tech and mobile space. The ebook user base is likely to grow in size as mobile technology improves and more and more people in developing markets get internet-enabled mobile phones.

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