Digital has been a hot topic of conversation at recent Frankfurt Book Fairs, and two data-driven keynotes at the Tools of Change Frankfurt kicked off the 2012 show with yet more evidence of the vast potential digital offers publishers. In her opening keynote, Bowker’s Jo Henry previewed some interesting global trends in the company’s latest consumer survey, due to be released in November, followed by Andrew Bud, global chair of MEF, the trade association for the mobile industry, who offered insights about the emerging mobile market, also gleaned from a recent survey.

“The first thing to say is that it looks like growth rates are quite fast, particularly in emerging markets,” Henry told ToC attendees, adding that while established markets are seeing “exponential growth,” in e-book adoption, emerging markets “look like they are going to go stratospheric.” Leading the way, is India, where some 39% of respondents said they have paid for an e-book or an extract in the last six months, up from 34% in January. In the U.S. it was 26%, up from 22%; and in the U.K. it was 24%, up from 22%. The data comes from the most recent installment of Bowker’s Global E-Book Monitor, a survey of 1000 consumer respondents in 10 countries, completed in September, which follows up on a survey done in January of 2012.

While e-books are surging, the survey also sought to look at the impact of e-books on consumer attitudes toward print. Overall, the trend is more negative than positive, Henry said, with roughly a third of respondents saying they have reduced their print purchases or stopped them altogether. However, a significant number say they have increased their print purchasing because of e-books, and most notably, a significant number who said were not print buyers at all were actually enticed into buying print from e-books. “The formats clearly work hand in hand,” Henry said.

In terms of price, most survey respondents indicated that an e-book should be valued at about half the price of a hardcover book, or 80% of a paperback. Also, readers were willing to pay more for their favorite authors than for a new author. And then there is the issue of free. “One thing we can say now is that free is driving engagement with paid digital content,” Henry said, noting that in the more established market, there is clear evidence that free downloaders are moving on to become paying customers as well. Of course, “free” covers “a multitude of sins,” Henry said, including piracy. While the data is still being parsed on the piracy question, Henry said that roughly two-thirds of all respondents said they would never download illegally, while, in general, a smaller, single digit percentages said they had no issues with illegal downloads.

Andrew Bud followed Henry with insights from another consumer survey that indicates a huge opportunity for publishers in the mobile space. While a growing number of readers are already using mobile devices to read, Bud said the survey showed that books ranked among the last things purchased for mobile devices. Roughly 17% of respondents said they had purchased books for their mobile devices, a “twilight zone” number, he noted, not negligibly small, but not as large as it should be.

Bud then outlined some key aspects that made mobile an attractive, vital space for publishers. First, is the consumer’s relationship to their device, particularly that it is almost always with consumers, and “available for immediate gratification.” Because of its immediate presence, mobile devices have now become “the first screen” for many, Bud said, referencing a mobile video survey that showed that the most popular place for watching mobile video was, surprisingly, at home, in the evening.

Mobile devices are also effective engagement engines, Bud noted, saying that Mobile has the ability to “push” consumers, for example through text messages, and to nudge their behavior in ways that “are difficult with any other medium.” Mobile also offers the ability to know a great deal about one’s consumer, although that information, he stressed, must be carefully respected in terms of privacy. But overall, mobile offers the kind of context, and simplicity, a “three clicks to purchase” approach, he called it, that make the market attractive.

Bud also stressed the ease of payment with mobile. Noting that the ability of companies like Apple and Amazon to get consumers to invest their credit card information with those companies represented a tremendous advantage for them, billing through mobile providers has the ability to knock that barrier down. “You can instantly bill 100% of your customers without prior enrollment for sums up to $10 of $15,” Bud said, although, he added, the price is often steep, as much as 30% of the gross for some mobile providers. But that power to reach consumers directly in this way “cannot be overestimated.”

Now in its fourth year, the Tools of Change conference has become the Frankfurt Book Fair’s "unofficial hot spot for innovation,” noted FBF organizer Holger Volland, kicking off the conference with slate of cutting edge programming.