Book or E-Book – Anyone Fancy a Digital Solution?

Steinbeis-Edition reader survey takes a closer look at the latest trend

Technical advancement resulting from digital solutions is turning the publishing market on its head and confronting industry with some fundamental questions regarding the future focus of product portfolios. E-books are nothing new anymore, but now, more than ever, publishers still have to ask themselves if they want to go along with the trend. Reading digital content on e-readers has been with us for some time, but is this a good basis for future business for a specialist publishing house? Steinbeis-Edition (STE), the publishing arm of the Steinbeis Foundation, has been supplying readers with material on a broad spectrum of topics for over a decade now. It prints a variety of individual titles and series. The specialist printer has been carrying out a survey in recent months to take a close look at the e-book trend.

It’s not easy in the publishing world to work out if it would be worth investing in digital solutions – or not as easy as it may be in other sectors of industry. Are specialist books and non-fiction as comfortable and efficient to read in digital formats, especially compared to tried-andtested printed and bound publications? Do customers even want to read books on e-readers or tablets, especially specialist content? If digital formats are a viable option, under which circumstances? To find out more, the STE conducted a survey on the media options preferred by readers. Are e-books about to push printed books into the sidelines, or is the centuries-old invention of Gutenberg still a strong contender?

Books hold a special value for many people compared to other everyday objects that can be replaced by digital solutions or modern technology. According to the STE survey, over 60% of respondents prefer classic books to e-books. Why exactly is that? It appears to have something to do with people’s emotional connection to books. Over one third of the people who prefer to read a printed book don’t want it to stop “feeling like a book.” By this they mean the pages they flick through and the smell of printed paper when they open a book. “Classic books shouldn’t be lost forever,” was the sort of feedback the average respondent gave. So digital transformation is not about to sweep through the publishing market? Well that’s not totally the case. Although the majority of respondents still feel attached to the printed alternative and would not want to do without it in the years to come, over 40 percent knew the future belongs to e-books.

So the question is, under which circumstances would an STE specialist book be read on an e-book device? The user requirements are multifaceted, but they mainly relate to practical aspects such as editing and additional functions. Users want editing options for highlighting, commenting, or linking passages, URLs and content tables, sorting functions, printing choices, and ways to share content. How this would work in technical terms is not something people could say. Even if everyone seems to have heard of the Amazon Kindle, half of the respondents said they knew none of the common e-book file formats at the moment. Many have never heard of Mobi, ePub, or AZW. According to the survey, reading specialist books on e-readers may not be the most important trend at the moment, but 41 percent of respondents could still imagine using them in the future, especially if the reading experience is right and they could improve reading efficiency because of certain editing functions.

This provides the STE with a good basis for publishing e-books in the future by reacting more specifically to the expectations and requirements of certain customers. This will also pave the way for more successful digital solutions.


All of the survey results can be browsed by going to and clicking the dropdown Steinbeis Media tab.

Katharina Stein
Steinbeis Transfer Center Steinbeis-Edition (Stuttgart)