While statistics don’t lie, the actual state of the ebook industry depends on which facts and figures you view.
When the Association of American Publishers (AAP) released its StatShot report for the first 4 months of 2013, the results showed ebooks were on the decline. But wait: Although the total ebook market dropped by 6% during that time frame (from $2.13 billion to $2 billion), not all categories were in the red.
The adult segment actually increased 1.3% (from $1.37 billion to $1.39 billion), and religious books posted a 1.9% boost (from $189.7 million to $193.2 million). However, the kids’ category weighed in with a 26.8% decline from last year, when The Hunger Games, the 2008 mega-popular science fiction book-recently-made-into-movie by Suzanne Collins, fueled readership in a big way. Writer Nate Hoffelder posted on The Digital Reader blog that “Ebook Sales Remained Flat in First 4 Months of 2013—Blame The Hunger Games” that the lack of a blockbuster hit again this year is one of the key factors in skewing otherwise positive results.
But the good news is that ebooks are holding their own and still commanding a sizable portion of the publishing pie. Consumer demand for ebooks is being heard in all market segments, including the library space, according to the recent Library Resource Guide Benchmark Study on 2013/14 Library Spending report titled, “Libraries: At the Epicenter of the Digital Disruption.” In fact, 9 in 10 public community libraries report that they are seeing a bigger demand for ebooks from patrons, and libraries are heeding the call. With acquisitions budgets in libraries showing an uptick (public, academic, and special sectors), librarians have put ebooks on top of the wish lists: In 2013, libraries boost ebooks acquisitions to 39% from 19% in 2011.
The Library Resource Guide study, sponsored by ProQuest and produced by Unisphere Research (a division of Information Today, Inc.), polled and compiled data from 796 library directors, administrators, and managers, as well as librarians in public, academic, and special libraries. One respondent noted that the greatest demand in libraries will be delivering ebooks to mobile devices, whether those are iPads, tablets, or smartphones.
“We’re at the point in the transition to electronic-first publishing where traditional publishers and distributors are being hoisted on their own metrics for success,” says John Blossom, industry analyst and president of Shore Communications, Inc. While Barnes & Noble tried to keep storefront sales going, it never considered converting that retail space into outlets that could serve a much broader range of information needs, he says. But contrast that to what Amazon has done. It first started selling printed books online, then moved quickly into selling a range of goods and services, and then used the revenues and cost efficiencies from these other lines of business to power more profitable book sales. With all of these factors and Amazon’s aggressive marketing of its own original content via ebooks, he says, Amazon could afford to take a chance on new business models.
It goes without saying that the grand move to secure a bigger share of the ebook market involves risk and business acumen to get ahead in today’s marketplace. “In other words, if you want to think of ebooks as simply a way of painting your goal posts a different color rather than playing a whole new game or a portfolio of games, then you’ll get the results that you invested in,” says Blossom.
The many shifts in consumer and patron demand have spurred vendors, suppliers, distributors, and publishers into collaboration mode in the ebook space. The e-landscape is showcasing examples of companies that are taking risks on innovation, special partnerships, and new business models with plenty of ease-of-use built into a growing number of platforms. From the many trends shaking up the ebook market these days, our panel of industry experts focused on the following five.
1) Digital finally has found its place in the sun.
If the May 2013 BookExpo America in New York City was any indication of the state of the ebook industry, all things digital are commanding more exhibits and more overall square footage at key conferences.
“Digital used to be delegated to the kids’ table in the corner,” says Mark Lefebvre, director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo, a supplier of ebooks and e-readers. “Digital now is just part of the show.” He is seeing more nonbook products appearing at conferences because booksellers simply have less of a sales margin to deal with. The growth of digital is incredible, he says. “Digital is now an accepted part of the space, and what I have been most excited about is seeing the independent bookseller who comes to talk to us.”
For Lefebvre, customers who are passionate about supporting independent booksellers haven’t been “drinking the Kool[-]Aid”; they haven’t been trained in the devaluation of the book. “The value isn’t in the paper,” he says. “The value is in the content, in the blood, sweat, and tears of the authors and the publishers, and in what makes it a book.”
2) Users are more e-savvy.
People know what they like and are customizing their e-reading experience accordingly. “You can decide how you want your book to behave,” says Lefebvre: You can decide what type size you want, what font, and whether you want to have the reading light on or off. In essence, a writer starts the book; a customer puts the finishing touches on it to personalize his or her e-reading experience. Take language, for example. “A family living in the U.S. may have a grandma who doesn’t speak English,” he says. “But she can now get a book in her native language that she can enjoy reading” on an e-reader.
Even demographic shifts in e-reader purchases have pointed to the unexpected. “We originally expected that we’d have more of a younger demographic,” says Lefebvre, but the younger demographic is actually being enticed into the experience by their parents. Middle-aged women love their book clubs, and “[s]eniors love large-print books,” he says. The e-reading experience is downright contagious.