Once year ago, we tackled this question in my post, Why Multi-Format Ebooks Matter, by analyzing about 50,000 Smashwords downloads.
In preparation for my Ebook Revolution presentation with Dan Poynter this Saturday at the The San Francisco Writer's Conference, I decided to do an update on the survey, this time analyzing a Smashwords sample of approximately 100,000 full ebook downloads from January 1 - 31, 2010.
For last year's survey, we were pleasantly surprised how handily EPUB beat out PDF.
The results this year surprised me again. I incorrectly assumed PDF would drop further from its #2 spot in last year's survey. Instead, PDF was #1 as the preferred format for 35 percent of downloads.
Of course, that also means 65 percent of readers prefer a format other than PDF.
I've been preaching for a couple years how I think PDF is a horrible, inflexible (can I say "suffocating"?) format for reading straight form narrative, since it lacks reflowability and therefore doesn't allow the reader to customize the font size, font style or line spacing. Oh, I should note that an author with 30 years publishing experience recently lectured me about how PDFs offer customized font selection. "It's call the zoom button!" he told me. Okay, whatever. If that feature satisfies him, so be it.
I believe in giving readers what they want, and our survey indicates PDF is a preferred format for one third of them. Why? I can posit of a few reasons:
- PDF is the one of the best formats for books where layout is critical to the readability and enjoyment of the book.
- PDF is universally supported on most PCs and many ebook reading devices. While the reading experience may suffer from the aforementioned limitations, at least you know it'll work.
- PDF is a familiar format. Some percentage of readers still believe that "PDF = Ebook," end of story.
We crunched some other interesting data for the panel as well.
I'll reveal one of them tomorrow, and will save the other as an exclusive treat for attendees at the San Francisco Writer's Conference.
- Interested to know how much customers will pay on the honor system if offered our "Pay what you want" option? How many of them will pay?
- At what prices will an ebook earn the author or publisher the greatest total sales (price * units sold)?