Thursday, January 31, 2013

eBooks and Associations: Anatomy of an analysis

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a column by Nicolas Carr (author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains) headlined Don't Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay. The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing. Readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages.

SCDdaily Note: I’m a bit biased on this topic because I do not like eBooks because I generally read “business books” that I yellow highlight and mark with sticky notes. On the other hand, I strongly believe ebooks should be part of an association’s content delivery tools. 

As I read Mr. Carr’s column thinking it would offer good advice for associations who are trying to determine whether or not to convert print publications to digital. I viewed the column as a followup to my March 6 post 5 Reasons E-books Should be in Your Association’s Marketing Toolbox.  

But, then I saw the column as a further illustration of how one can use statistics and surveys to reinforce any point you want to make. See my June 27 post on Interpreting data differently results in different interpretations. 

I was disappointed in Mr. Carr’s column which appears to be using questionable statistics to support his point of view. 

Here are four of Mr. Carr’s points along with my comments:

“How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%.” 

  • SCDdaily: This is a 43.8% year over year increase; hardly modest growth as Mr. Carr stated.
“But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months.” 

  • SCDdaily: This shows lack of transparency as the 89% is not of the entire population but of “regular book readers” what ever that means. Mr. Carr should have included percent of the population who are “regular book readers.” 
“Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.”
  • SCDdaily: 30% of what? Again, Mr. Carr should have been more transparent and clear.
“What's more, the Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That's still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.”
  • SCDdaily: Mr. Carr fails to provide context “dropped sharply to 34% of book buyers.” Nor did he mention that ebook sales totaled $969.9 million. Nor did he mentioned that – according to Publishers Weekly – sales of print books dropped 9.3%. So the increase in ebook sales slowed while sales of print books declined. That puts a different context in Mr. Carr’s piece.
2 Takeaways for Association Executives:
  1. Despite the apparent bias in Mr. Carr’s column, the numbers clearly show a place for ebooks in association publications.
  2. Why? Because if a third or more of association members (and prospects) were engaged in a new activity, I would be sure my association got in that space to meet the needs of those members. If I don’t I risk having those members devote time away from my association.

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