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Old 07-08-2009, 05:55 PM   #1
ec1matt
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Report from Random House UK Ebook Focus Group 8th July 09

I attended an ebook focus group at Random House's offices in London this evening along with 9 other ebook enthusiasts and three members of Random House staff (Nicole, who organised the event, and her colleagues Jonathan and Sophie - I think I got these names right).

The attendees were invited because we'd filled in a survey from Waterstones about ebooks and the format of the evening was just all of us sat round a table (pretty much 50-50 men and women) talking about our ebook experiences.

The topics which came up were:-

Ebook pricing - everyone thought that this was a major weakness. While it was explained that setting up the infrastructure to create and distribute ebooks electronically is not without costs, everyone was appalled that in some cases, the ebook version can be twice the price of the paperback. It was suggested a model similar to the iTunes 79p track could be applied to short stories and maybe sample chapters.

Reading devices used - it was about 50-50 in the group reading on dedicated devices or phones/PDAs. A handful of people also read on PCs, especially technical books where a larger screen and more powerful annotation features were seen as benefits.

Website quality - the Waterstones website was universally panned for its poor searching and general unfriendliness. It was agreed that an Amazon-quality website would be very desireable. One attendee said that if the Kindle came to the UK, she would ditch her Sony for it just not to have to use the Waterstones website anymore.

Ebooks vs paper - most people agreed that paper was better for some books (e.g. art, reference) and reading at home but ebooks better for travel reading. I and the guy next to me (Fred, I think) were in the minority, preferring ebooks all the time. Both of us commented that we never used to take books with us, but nearly always have our reader with us.

Bundling ebooks with paper versions - there was some enthusiasm for this, either with the book coming with a CD-Rom or with an activation code to use on a website after purchasing the paper book (or buying both simultaneously online). I can't honestly remember what kinds of books were thought to lend themselves to this kind of deal. For me, I'd only be interested in this for books I know other family members would like (so I could use the ebook and give them the paper copy).

Enhanced books - for me, all I want in a book is text (and diagrams if necessary), but there was some enthusiasm for extra content such as sample chapters, video interviews with authors etc even if this content couldn't be accessed on all devices (e.g no video on a dedicated e-ink device) but could be accessed online instead. One thing I would like is a website that learned what you like (in much the same way Amazon does) and automatically bundled sample chapters with each purchase. Everyone agreed the instant gratification aspect of ebooks is a big draw (except when Waterstones website goes down) so extra chapters would certainly help to part me from my money.

In all, the evening was very interesting (90 minutes just flew by) and the Random House staff seemed to be very interested in what we all had to say. And we got to choose 2 paper books each as a thank-you.
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Old 07-08-2009, 06:03 PM   #2
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thanks very much for the report ! it's encouraging to see that random house is taking such an interest in ebooks (although they are currently On My List for pricing the new Tom Waits biography at 30 farking dollars list, for god's sake, in fact off i go to the vent and rant thread to rant about it next). let's hope they'll take the info they get from this focus group to heart. please let us know whether you hear any news from them to follow up !

i can't believe they didn't give you ebooks for your trouble though !
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Old 07-08-2009, 06:06 PM   #3
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Thanks for the report - very interesting. The focus group was already full by the time I replied to their invitation, so it's interesting to hear what happened.

It's also good to hear that ebooks are being taken seriously by publishers here!
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Old 07-08-2009, 06:06 PM   #4
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Yes, we did comment it was strange they didn't give us ebooks but they said they had no way of doing it:-) But free reading's free reading, as I see it.
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Old 07-08-2009, 06:07 PM   #5
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I wouldn't say no to paper books either, although I have stopped buying them!
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Old 07-08-2009, 06:17 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zelda_pinwheel View Post
i can't believe they didn't give you ebooks for your trouble though !
Well of course, since paper books cost so much less to produce!

BOb
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