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This year, for the first time ever, Amazon sold more electronic books than printed ones. And Kindle e-readers are flying off the shelves, and one article suggests Barnes and Noble’s saving grace will be its Nook reader.

What gives with this sudden transition to e-books? What are the implications of this e-reading trend for marketing professionals?

The Economist article “Great Digital Expectations" highlights the rapid rise of e-books. And “rapid” is exactly the right word, as it was just in 2006 that e-reader sales were a measly 100,000, whereas 25 million units are expected to be sold in 2011. The article also mentions some startling ramifications of this trend towards electronic reading and publishing (paraphrased):

  • E-books have higher profit margins.

  • Romance e-books are selling like hotcakes.

  • Digital piracy is a threat.

  • Pricing is all over the map.

As more people switch to e-readers and the tablet craze really takes off, there are certainly some implications for marketing professionals.

1. The Long Tail

The long tail will be much more of a selling force. In the past, publishers would rely on big box stores, such as Borders or the like, to prominently display their wares. In addition, publishers would expect discount stores and warehouse firms, such as Costco, to move book volumes. With digital publishing, it’s conceivable that more players will have a “fair shot” at publishing success as clustering algorithms on Amazon, and the like suggest books based on our browsing history and past purchases. For sure, blockbuster titles will continue to have a conspicuous display on Kindle and Nook homepage screens, but readers will discover more book options as expert recommendation engines suggest likely interests that can be purchased in seconds.

2. Pricing

Pricing will take on added importance. Today, print publishers wrestle with initial price setting as they must deliver books to stores that will sell and also create profits. Pricing must be decided before printing because each book has a printed list price on the back cover.

However, with digital publishing, there is essentially no need to establish a “set in stone” price. In a virtual world, publishers (and online retailers) can experiment with pricing every day, perhaps setting different rates by country, discounting “on the fly” based on daily e-book sales, or offering deals to Amazon Kindle customers through its Special Offers. Amazon shoppers know it’s not uncommon to view a book, say “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” one day at $21.24, and then come back to the site tomorrow and see it listed for $22.09. Pricing experimentation will happen instantaneously based on near real time data analysis---without the need to change store signage and update retail POS systems.

These are just two implications for rising e-reader ownership and there are certainly dozens more.

  • Can you think of other marketing implications for the rise of e-books?

  • How will social media change the way we find and buy e-books?

  • What changes, if any, will this e-book trend have on B2B marketing tactics?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.