12 digital fundraising trends for 2012 #6 Ebooks

Back in November 2007 when Amazon kick-started the eBook market with the launch of its first generation Kindle, suggestions that they could ever come close to replacing printed books were typically treated with disbelief and distain. However, the chart above, presented by Amazon’s CEO last September, tells a pretty clear story about the growth of eBooks since then. In short, it took just four and a half years for Amazon to reach the point where it was selling more eBooks than print editions.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only print or e-bookseller around. But their competitors have also released reports on the incredible speed at which eBook sales are growing and by the middle of last year eBooks were reported as making-up 13.6% of the US adult fiction market, with growth still accelerating. Barnes and Noble, the largest book retailer in the US, say that this digital transformation is happening even faster than they are seeing with music and movies.

So, whether or not we like the idea of the comforting, multi-sensory experience of reading a printed book (got to love the smell of a newly opened book) being replaced by a StarTrek-like world of digital tablet readers, there is no escaping what the sales data is telling us. In the same way that my great 1980s double cassette tape and record deck got consigned to the attic when CDs came along; and my CD collection now gathers dust as the whole lot fills a puny percentage of my MP3 player’s memory; so we are witnessing here an inescapable shift towards eBook reading.

I admit it is difficult to imagine the sale of printed books drying-up completely (although, of course, we have seen that happen with vinyl records over the last 20 or so years). However, I can fairly easily imagine a significant proportion of the printed versions of ‘throw away’ publications like newspapers and magazines being replaced by interactive digital versions – and that’s where I think this trend starts to look interesting for fundraisers and other charity marketers.

My doormat stands as a testament to the fact that even when a donor engages with a charity online the way that most will respond is primarily through printed and posted materials. These include a range of supporter newsletters and magazines which I’m afraid, despite the obvious time and money invested in them, all too often seem to me the ultimate ‘throw away’ publications. Those organisations who are more serious about online communications send me ‘e-newsletters’, which is better. But, even when they are well designed, these are still really more ‘email’ than anything else – so tend to be read when I’m reading other email and as a result receive at best a quick browse.

Meanwhile, a growing proportion of my ‘real’ reading is now done using a mobile digital device – especially when I’m travelling, as I will often take along my Kindle or read an Ebook downloaded onto my smartphone. That’s proper immersive reading – so immersive that I missed a Tube stop the other day because I was so deeply into a book on my phone (I couldn’t have said that a few years ago).

Importantly, this sort of activity can no longer be brushed-off as only seen amongst a small number of early adopters. Pew Research reported last year that the percentage of US adults with an eBook reader doubled in the six months between November 2010 and May 2011 to 12%, and based on the incredible Christmas sales volumes being reported I wouldn’t be surprised if this doubled again in 2012. [Update 23/01/12Latest Pew Research says US eBook reader ownership reached 19% by early January 2012]. Other countries are lagging behind the US, but seem likely to catch-up pretty fast. Here in the UK, YouGov Research reported that 2.5% of UK adults received a eBook reader this Christmas – with those aged over 55 twice as likely to receive one as those aged 18-24. Add-in the massive growth in Smartphones, iPads and other Tablet PCs, which can also function as eBook readers, and the potential market of eBook reading charity supporters starts looking really interesting.

All of which leads me to think that there must be an opportunity emerging here for non-profits looking to offer these digitally-equipped donors a more engaging read than is possible through a traditional e-newsletter. Depending on the platform you choose, think copy, photos, videos, audio, web links, interactivity, even augmented reality – all consumed in a ‘reading’ rather than traditional ‘computer browsing’ mode.

Clearly not all donors will be interested in the option to download a digital publication, and it may be more relevant for subscription publications (if your content is good enough, perhaps that offers you a new income stream?). But as eBook adoption continues apace, it seems likely that a significant number of those who choose to give to you online might find this type of donor communication of real interest.

To-date the only UK charity I know of who is testing this is Epilepsy Action, who have made their Epilepsy Today magazine available for the Kindle. While the Museum of London recently launched an App-based monthly subscription serialised graphic novel to tie-in with their Charles Dickens exhibition, entitled ‘Dickens: Dark London’.

If you know of any other non-profits testing the addition of Ebook content in their donor or member communications then do let me know.

This is the sixth of 12 posts that I’ll be publishing throughout January on trends I think will prove to be important for digital fundraising in 2012. You can find the previous trend post, on Mobile App vs Mobile Web, here.