e-readersE-books and digital reading may be on the minds of many in the publishing industry these days, but one question dominates the conversation: What's it going to take to reach the tipping point so that e-reading is a mass-market pursuit?

The answer, according to a recent survey of over 13,000 people in 14 countries by the Boston Consulting Group, is a low-priced tablet. Preferably under $200, and one that, like Apple's (AAPL) iPad, offers a variety of different functions from reading books to playing games, checking email and watching videos.

Significant Interest

The stats from BCG's survey suggest we're not so far away from e-reading's mass adoption. The study reveals that 28% of respondents -- and 51% of those familiar with devices like the iPad, Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle and Barnes & Noble's (BKS) nook -- plan to purchase an e-reader or tablet within the next 12 months. And 49% of respondents and 73% of those familiar with e-readers and tablets will buy one within three years. Two-thirds of participants (66%) prefer multipurpose devices over single-function e-readers, which were tops among only 24% of those surveyed. The remainder said they were undecided.

If those numbers hold up, they must also factor in the desire of more than 80% of consumers not to be locked into a single content source like the iTunes store. They prefer greater ability to obtain content from multiple retailers.

Price is key, both in terms of how much devices should cost and what users will pay for e-books and magazine and newspaper subscriptions. A tablet's ideal price may be $200, but that's a long way away from the $499 price tag of the entry-level iPad.

In the U.S., "consumers are willing to pay $2 to $4 for a single issue of an online magazine, comparable to the cost of the print version, and $5 to $10 for a monthly online newspaper subscription," according to the study. The news may not bode as well for book publishers, as "consumers are willing to pay only $5 to $10 for digital books...below the price that book publishers are targeting."

Purchasing Convenience Is Key


So what's the big takeaway? According to the Big Money's Marion Maneker, it's that "purchasing convenience may be the secret weapon for the publishing industry." Such a conclusion is hardly earth-shattering: When the price is right and content and devices are easily available, consumers will buy more.

But the survey results should also be watched closely by Google (GOOG), Acer and Sony (SNE), all of which are considering a move into the tablet business. If they don't get their devices to market fast enough and with a price tag that undercuts Apple, they may be out of luck reaching this swelling base of people who want to read digitally -- when they want it and how they want it.

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jenny

People are going to realize that they can get a very inexpensive Android tablet with this device, and the developers see that," Cogen says. "It's a challenge to them, and they're going to continue to make it better. So it's definitely going to get more stable, less glitches as time goes on. We're talking weeks, days."
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