Afternoon Dust

Art Book Readers' Survey results

A little while ago I conducted an online survey into how and why people read art books. 14 people took the survey, which isn’t a huge sample size, but for those who are interested, the results can be downloaded here. For those who are interested, but not interested enough to trawl through an Excel sheet full of statistics and charts, here is a summary of the results:

What do you read?

Survey participants read widely, with only ‘Political Theory’ being read by less than 40% of participants. Learning something new about the world and having one’s views and opinions challenged were the highest ranked motivations for reading, while entertainment and learning for one’s own practice were ranked the lowest. Half of the participants stated they found it easy to find books they were interested in, and about a third stated that they did not have chance to read all the books they wanted to.

How do you read?

All the participants stated that they read paperback books. Just over half stated that they read hardback books, with ebook readership at approx. 30% and audiobook listenership at 7% (1 participant). Of the participants that stated they read ebooks, 50% indicated that they did so using a Kindle; 50% using a PC; and 25% using a Mac. The participant who stated that s/he listens to audiobooks indicated that s/he does so using a PC and a hi-fi stereo. All of the participants indicated that they read at home, and nearly two-thirds stated that they read while travelling or commuting. Park/coffee shop, work, and libraries were indicated by between 20-30% of participants.

The most popular ways of getting hold of books were dedicated bookshops, museum and gallery bookshops, and Amazon. Half of the participants stated that they get books from their university library. The percentages of participants who indicated that they buy direct from the publisher or from specialist ebook stores were small.

None of the participants stated that they owned a tablet device of any kind, and only around 20% indicated that they owned an e-reader. Smartphone ownership was higher at 36%. Preference for a physical product was by far the most prevalent reason for not reading ebooks, with over 70% of participants giving this answer. Lack of ebook availability for wanted titles, the clumsiness and/or difficulty of using ebooks, and familiarity with paper books were all indicated as reasons for not reading ebooks in 20-30% of cases.

The most prevalent reasonable price points for printed books were £8 and £15, with a mean of £11.08 and a relatively wide distribution. £5 was by far the most preferred price point for ebooks, with some participants using the ‘Other’ option to suggest even less. The mean price was £7.18. When judging whether a printed book offered good value for money, participants indicated that length, design, the author’s reputation, and genre were all important factors, while paper quality and the reputation and size of the publisher were unimportant. These results were mirrored in the judging the value for money of an ebook.


Survey participants generally seemed to have a very low opinion of ebooks, both in terms of how much they used them and how much they were willing to pay for them. I perhaps suspect that people judge the value of ebooks by comparing them with other digital media that they consume for ‘free’ (i.e. ad-supported websites), rather than thinking about the amount of work that went into producing, distributing and selling them (which is often not substantially less than a printed book, the actual printing costs often being dwarfed by the costs of people’s time — though this does depend somewhat on the size of the publisher). Sadly it seems that participants felt little love towards small independent publishers, consistently stating that the size of the publisher wasn’t important to them.

May I take this opportunity to rail against digital rights management (DRM)? Most ebooks available these days come crippled with DRM technology that is meant to prevent piracy. This usually means that you can only read those ebooks using particular software, on devices that have been linked to your account with the retailer or a third party, with the link being validated on a regular basis by connecting to a remote server. If the reading software isn’t available for your device or operating system, you can’t read your ebook; if the retailer goes bust or decides to get out of the ebook business, and closes down the remote server, you can’t read your ebook; if you lose your internet connection and can’t connect to the remote server, you can’t read your ebook. Meanwhile, the pirates crack the encryption and carry on pirating regardless. I avoid DRM-crippled ebooks for these reasons. Publishers that use DRM include Apple, Amazon, Google,, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. Kudos to sane folks such as O’Reilly for selling high-quality ebooks free of DRM!