With strong demand for the Kindle spurring renewed interest in the e-book market, a research group has released a report based on a consumer survey that found that 17% of book buyers said they would purchase a copy of a book in some digital format. The report projects that the number of consumers who will regularly download a book to an e-book reader could reach 16 million adults in the next few years. While forecasts for the e-book market in the past have proven to be notoriously inflated, Gary Gabelhouse, CEO of Fairfield Research Inc., said his company's findings on the market for digital book alternatives mirror the adoption rates Fairfield has found in other media segments that made the transition to digital delivery.

According to Gabelhouse, earlier studies on consumers' willingness to download music and audio, as well as on their interest in using video-on-demand and pay-per-view, found that about 15% of consumers were willing to purchase a digital download, regardless of the product's packaging and presentation. Given that background, Gabelhouse said, he wasn't surprised that 17% of book buyers said they would seriously consider buying a book in digital form. In contrast, 55% of respondents said they would only buy a printed book, while the remaining 27% were ambivalent.

The study also found that 17% of book buyers had already purchased an e-book. Gabelhouse makes a distinction between e-books that can be downloaded to a device and/or printed out and digital books that must be read on screens. In the latter case, downloading a book to an e-book reader was the clear preference for how consumers would like to view digital books, with other alternatives generating no more than a 10% purchase-intent level. According to the report, 17% of book buyers said they were either moderately or highly interested in downloading a digital book to a reader such as the Kindle or Sony Reader. Book buyers were less interested in other alternatives, such as pay-read options that would permit readers to rent a digital book.

In projecting how big the market for digital book devices may be, Gabelhouse said Fairfield has developed a model that allows it to predict what percent of respondents who say they will buy a new media product actually make a purchase. Based on that formula, Fairfield estimated that 6.8 million to 16.1 million consumers will download digital books to an e-book reader. Gabelhouse said the study found the highest potential market for digital books to be employed males ages 25—34 with income over $100,000. Since that demographic is slow to buy printed books, Gabelhouse said, the sale of digital books would likely represent new sales for publishers, rather than merely stealing sales from print editions.

The survey compiled results from 2,924 consumers who responded to an e-mail questionnaire sent to 10,000 adults. An executive summary is available by e-mailing fairfield@navix.net.