Sampling free content is inspiring customers to buy e-books with a fifth of UK readers citing it as the primary reason for purchase, according to new research

Surveys by Book Marketing Limited (BML) and Bowker Publishing Services presented at the 2011 Books and Consumers Conference in London on 23rd March showed the trend was prevalent in the US market, where more than a third surveyed said free content inspired them to buy e-books.

Of those surveyed in the UK, 15% said simply downloading a “taster” chapter or extract before buying a book was one of their top reasons for downloading, and another 23% said the cheaper cost of e-books was important to them. The same percentage downloaded content because it took up less space at home.

The most common reason given for using e-books was that readers found them easier to carry around and take on holiday, according to 25% of respondents in the UK. By contrast, 20% said e-books were friendlier for the environment and 18% opted to buy them because wide ranges were available.

As of January 2011, more than 3.3% of British book buyers had bought an e-book, up from 1% in September 2010. In the US, 13% of book buyers bought an e-book in January 2011, up from 3.9% in February 2010. Jo Henry, m.d. of BML, said the UK is now a year behind where the US was in February 2010.

On average, e-books are being bought for less than half the price of a hardback, and two-thirds of the paperback price. Concern was expressed that midlist and backlist titles might decline as the online e-book market grows, because the results showed that 47% of UK shop purchases were made on impulse, compared with 23% impulse purchases made online.

Internet retailers had increased volume share of purchases from 17% in 2008 to 26% in 2010. Chain booksellers decreased volume share from 37% to 30% in that time. The volume of purchases at independent retailers and supermarkets stayed largely flat.

The BML UK surveys of 4,000 people were carried out in August 2010 and February 2011, and in the US by Bowker from a Book Industry Study Group-sponsored quarterly study of 750 e-book buyers taken from a balanced sample of the US census.

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