Bowker, an organization that generates (and sells) all sorts of information—logistical, sales, customer preference—about the publishing industry, just released the results of a study on ebook buying habits in 10 countries, “major world markets” all. The study presents a daunting array of data: correlating likelihood to buy with age, gender, and income; predicting increases in ebook sales in certain markets; differentiating pace of growth across regional markets; et ceteraz. There's a lot to say about the study’s intrinsically fascinating details, but what I really like is the flurry of responses popping up throughout the publishing blogworld—and usually revealing way more about the responders than the data.
Lots of the responses smack of confirmation bias. Printing Impressions, a business publication for American printers—who, obvs, want to find hope for pulp-n-fiber books—highlights a post pronouncing that the breathless predictions of ebooks eradicating printed books and brick-and-mortar stores are “way off the mark.” (Although, R.I.P. Borders.) Meanwhile, Digital Book World looks into the morass of data and sees that “the world has caught up to the U.S. when it comes to e-book buying.” On the internet, everyone wins! But where do I get my ice cream?
And then there are the thought-tickling observations. At MobyLives, Kelly Burdick was struck by the fact that both the French and the Japanese seem less than enthusiastic about purchasing ebooks. French insistence on the sensuous pleasures of reading a bound book? Or, as Burdick suggests, simply a result of the Amazon ebook store being relatively new in France? Time will tell; there’s nothing in the current study to say. Other people found other things significant. And more people will likely write more, shortly: watch them do it, in real time!
That’s the thing about studies like this one. Bowker generated so much data, and then correlated it in so many ways, that without some sober (boh-ring!) statistical thinking, extrapolations begin to look meaningless. They suggest that data can be bent to support virtually any argument. Which means these broad interpretations may reveal less about what’s going to happen with ebook sales and more about what the people jockeying the data want to believe.
For my part, I find it interesting that India leads the globe in percentage of people who have purchased ebooks: I want to see that correlated with pricing in Indian ebook outlets, access to old-fashioned print books, and availability of ereaders, as well as some remarks about the culture of the book in the subcontinent.
I could avail myself of Google and the lieberry. Or I could take my cue from the blogosphere: extrapolate first, ask questions later.
Image via flickr user Josh Bancroft