eBook sales and digital reader update

From January 24 – 26, the Publishing Industry will gather in New York for the Digital Book World Conference to debate the new technologies. I really wish I was going but, like me, you can follow it on Twitter during the coming week. As Christians in this industry, we simply cannot ignore such immense changes to our market. If you are part of Linked In, you could also join the group, Digital Book World.

Like it or not, the eBook revolution is here. There’s also a lot of puff around with some drawing parallels such as the shift from the horse to the automobile! Somehow I doubt it. Print is still pretty massive! However, a number of commentators, admittedly mostly American, are stating that this Christmas was absolutely a ‘change point’ in terms of the sale of eBooks. Barnes & Noble, the largest USA bookshop chain, announced it sold one million e-books on Christmas Day. The fact that they developed their own ‘Nook’ eReader has been credited with keeping them ahead of faltering rivals, Borders USA.  

USA Today’s ‘Best-Selling Books’ list demonstrated digital’s new popularity; their top six books outsold the print versions in the week following the Christmas holiday. Of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales. Perhaps not a great surprise when around 3 to 5 million eReaders were activated in that same week resulting in this surge of sales. The big question is; will it continue? It’s obviously still early days but insiders are predicting that by 2012 three in every 10 books could be delivered digitally. Publishers are aiding this trend by very quickly adding more and more back-list titles.

According to AAP sales figures in the USA, eBook sales were significantly up in November. At the same time, adult paperback sales were down 19% compared to the same period the previous year. Their release states, ‘eBook sales continue to grow, with a 130% increase over November 2009 ($46.6 million); year-to-date eBook sales are up 166%’. It will be interesting to see the December eBook figures when they are released as what starts in the USA tends to end up here.

Gartner predicted that more than 15.8 million e-readers will be in use by 2013.  Some in the industry have expressed surprise at the speed of this transition, which has quickly gained ground particularly in the area of mass market fiction. eBooks sales account for about 9% of the USA market. Bowker, the research company says sales may flatten this year but could still be twice as high as they were in 2010.

Within Publishing, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what to do about piracy and DRM (digital rights management). Should DRM be employed at all as it can so easily by cracked? Is piracy really such a threat to book publishers in the same way as it was for the music industry? The answers may be different depending on whether you are a small niche publisher or one producing high volume, high worth, popular titles. These days it’s just so easy to scan and digitise a printed book and put them up on a web site. For a really informative thread discussion here.

Google’s announcement earlier this week of its acquisition of eBook Technologies, a company that sells the technology used to operate digital reading devices is fascinating. Google by dint of its size, power, wealth and global reach has the ability to utterly transform the eBook landscape. Already consumers can browse and search through more than 3 million free books on its site.

Publishers are on the defensive. As eBook sales rise, the unspoken question is; will authors still need a publisher? It’s just possible than in the fast-approaching digital future that it will be the (online) retailers who will come to dominate the customer relationship. Why? Because it is the retailer who has the knowledge of their consumer base. They have the ability to market a book far more effectively. Why has Tesco been such a successful retailer? In one word; Clubcard! Consumer data and customer knowledge are all.

The future of eBook selling may therefore lie with the likes of Amazon, Apple and Eden. However, as of today, there are no Christian eBooks for sale on Eden.co.uk. As I write, one site launching to sell Christian eBooks is http://www.10ofthese.com – so I guess we shall see!

A way does need to be found quickly for small retailers to gain access to this market. Andrew Lacey from GLO has suggested something along the lines of the now defunct Crown customisable website?

What all this tells us is that retail as we know it will need to be reinvented if it is to survive. My view is that we have a few short months to act and make changes before the impact fully begins to bite.

28 thoughts on “eBook sales and digital reader update

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention eBook sales and digital reader update « The Christian Bookshops Blog -- Topsy.com

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  3. Thought some of you might be interested in this – it’s pretty amazing and revolutionary and could be something really special:

    ‘Book is a revolutionary product: Bio Optical Organiced Knowledge device… Find out about its amazing advantages!’

  4. I concur: a great YouTube vid.

    As regards the eBook versus the printed I cannot help but consider as a publisher with a heart for the whole trade and the kingdom of God in all places that we, as publishers, need to perhaps take a look at the film industry.

    The eBook is a new medium.
    As is the DVD.

    What is important to the film industry is the theatre and big screen experience and so we find that it is up to 1 year AFTER the film is launched that DVDs are produced. Let alone available online.

    So, it is not dissimilar in the book world. A hardback is produced before a paperback. But for various other reasons.

    The point is made though that if the publisher is conscious of his long term relationship and health of the whole trade,
    then it follows to adopt a policy of eBook production at a later stage than the printed version has certain advantages.

      • And that would also be of great help to the retail side of the trade.

        To allow 2 months of (hard copy) book sales BEFORE the eBook is launched would encourage the use of bookshops, and libraries.

        There would however be no such “encouragement” for online purchasers of the (solid) book.

        My suggestion is for publishers to consider for the long term benefit of all…

    • Phil is right on the timing. Lovefilm, Virgin and BT Vision also have their on-demand versions released at the same time for many of the biggest films. I wonder if that impacts sales. Looking at the performance of HMV (the biggest DVD retailer) it seems to.

      For many of the bigger publishers the ebook version is starting to be used as a test with a physical copy only produced if enough sales are achieved – which is the opposite of what you suggest. Also, the pressure from Amazon to make the Kindle version available at the same time as the physical version is probably considerable. Especially after their investment in the hardware.

      Not sure what the answer is to be honest. I like the idea that an ebook can be got to market for under £1000 including good editorial work. I think this makes the possibility of works being published that wouldn’t see the light of day any other way (other than vanity publishing).

  5. Meanwhile anyone with more money than sense can now pay £97 for the latest ebook from The Bookseller: Digital Book Census 2010 — out of date already, of course.

    At least 17 topics are covered so at 30 pages it’s hardly going to be an in depth analysis, methinks, but here’s a snapshot:

    √ What % [of publishers] sell their content digitally?
    √ And in what forms?
    √ What channels to market?
    √ What % of total sales are digital?
    √ How do they anticipate this % in 2011, 2015 & 2020?
    √ What platforms readers will prefer for e-books in 2015.
    √ How much an e-book should cost.
    √ Who should set e-book prices.
    √ The agency model.
    √ How long the agency model will remain viable.
    √ Whether e-books will outsell print books.
    √ And, if so, when?
    √ Whether digital sales will grow the overall book market.
    √ The future of reading and learning.
    √ Ideas for how booksellers can respond to the digital age
    √ And the future of libraries and e-book lending.

    Of course, I could be wrong and it may be essential reading…

    More interesting, an attempt from Profile managing director Andrew Franklin to argue for the retention of territorial rights … a bit like dinosaurs arguing over their territories blissfully unaware of the meteor about to strike: Digital must not make territories obsolete, warns Franklin

    • I read that too, but suspect that these figures may be a little misleading.

      Let’s not forget that most books sold on amazon are not sold BY amazon. The vast majority of books sold there are now Marketplace sales, facilitated by amazon, but completed and fulfilled by people like The Book Depository eden and hundreds of others.

      It would be interested to see whether all of these numbers are included in this calculation or not.

      Also, when I read numbers about the Kindle installed base, i also have to question how accurate it is.

      My family have four copies of Kindle installed (one on my laptop, one on my work computer, my iPhone and my wife’s laptop) yet have never actually read a single thing on them. At what point do i become a kindle user? When I install it (then my wife and I are 4 kindle users) when I link it to an Amazon account (three users) or when I actually read something in it (zero users).

      I just don’t know.

      It’s like Microsoft claiming an installed base of over 2 million when tens, if not hundreds of thousands of those phones are actually still in boxes at retail shops, carriers, and on auction sites worldwide.

      Don’t forget, you can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.

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  7. My guess is that publishers, distributors and other online retailers would gladly provide an Ebook service to physical stores – but what would that service need to look like? Developing a solution is technically straightforward but getting the business model to ‘work’ for the retailer and service operator will be the challenge.

    I think that Ian is right – it will need to be bricks and mortar retailers who propose *the idea* for a solution that will work for their customers and their businesses.

    If you are a bricks and mortar retailer, how do you see Ebooks fitting within your business? How would the ideal ‘Ebook Solution’ work for you?

  8. Perfect timing there Gareth, this one in from the states:

    To be honest as I think I’ve said to others and even on here that at the moment I would be content with an affilliate type arrangement and a nice shop I can fit into my existing shops websites – an ebook equivalent to an a-shop style thing I suppose.
    It’s not the perfect arrangement but it would be cheap and easy to maintain and allow me to at least have something to offer my customers and promote in shop so I’m not completely missing the action as it were – of course it’s also the perfect place for alliance and liason between online and bricks and mortar shops, a place where both work together harmoniously and grow each others business! and in turn all work postitively, favourably and fairly with the publishers/producers and they with the shops!

    Ideally, if i’m blue sky dreaming, then in the future though I’d probably like to be looking at some sort of shopzones thing so that my customers can come in the shop, browse the shelves (as they already do) and then instead of leaving or tagging into Amazon (as they currently do) they hook into the shopzone digital cloud and download the book or music then and there and leave with it – thus still being digitally fulfilled and using and supporting the local community shop – now that would be my idea of perfection 🙂 Perhaps an app too for this – or of course it could be that the shopzone encompasses a larger geographic area on the assumption that the customer probably did utilise the local shop to browse the books but then still went home to download due to doing it on computer or some sort of payment/security concern they have of mobile shopping! now that idea really really would be total perfection but I can appreciate I’m pushing the boundaries here – but hey – blue sky dreaming!

  9. I wonder what level of sales would take place through an Astore style system? Do you sell much physical product through your Astore currently?

    I ask because we are regularly asked to provide a white-label/affiliate style site for shops, but my experience is that we expect much more from an out-of-the-box solution than is realistic. Without some really clever thinking the same could easily happen with an Ebook solution for stores – maybe that’s why the CBA are taking their time over the solution.

    Here’s a typical experience for bookshops who venture online:

    1. The first task is to setup the website – that’s the easy bit, but it can costs £thousands.

    2. Next, you need to attract visitors. Perhaps you’ve got a mailing list of 5,000 local Christians so you send them a postcard or email announcing the launch of your website. A 2% response is typical so 100 visitors will visit your website.

    3. Finally, you need those 100 visitors to buy something. New ecommerce websites have a conversion rate of around 1% so for every 100 visitors you’ll get 1 order.

    So, you start with a postcard or email being sent to a mailing list of 5,000 people and you end up with 1 order worth, say, £20 which at 35% margin leaves you with £5 gross profit after you’ve paid for postage (£1.50) and packaging (£0.50p).

    At this point it can feel like a lot of effort for not much reward and the momentum dies. It suddenly becomes clear that time/effort on relationships with local churches / schools or improving the shop’s appearance would have given a better return.

    What do you think?

  10. Lol – Gareth,
    I think your looking at it from an online shops venture as opposed to a B&M venture 😉

    I can only talk for me but I know I’m not looking to become a full on online seller, If I’d wanted that I’d have done it by now – after all that was a big part of my previous job.
    However I do want my customers to think of my shop when they sit at home and then have the opportunity to be able to, in effect, support and buy from my shop.
    That’s why I’m relatively happy with the affilliate model and A-shop design medium and am finding it working quite well – but then my expectations and demands are pretty low there really (and of course it could just be that i’m incredibly lazy and this is incredibly easy!), in the end I subscribe to the slogan of the mighty T and believe ‘every little helps’.

    Again I can only talk for my shop, http://www.lincolnchristianbookshop.co.uk cost me nothing but the domain name which works out about £3 a year, that’s why it’s so basic!
    It really does cost me nothing in the end because the A-shop framework is free and the money I make back from sales through that more than covers the £3ish a year domain name registration and the time I expend on it.
    The important thing though is that it gives me a presence online, it still provides for my customers to be able to shop online if they want and to support us – it allows for me to advertise online and in the real – all my business cards, posters, emails, letters, credit notes and compliment slips and all other advertising or sponsorships we do carry the websites details – and I am getting more and more customers shopping on them or looking there and then contacting me about things they see on there etc, or indeed new customers coming in because of the website or online advertising it allows me to do!

    So all in all it’s suiting my needs but I admit it could be better but I’m not looking to be an Eden, I’m looking to be a Unicorn Tree Books & Crafts, A Niche Market business & Lincoln’s Christian Bookshop – Independent and Community Minded but with the ability to offer my customers – those people in my area’s, communities and networks – everything they want and need and these days that includes some sort of online presence.

    😀 *really really big grin* As to ‘a lot of effort for not much reward’, if I lost momentum everytime that scenario played out I’d still be in me bed right now and I certainly wouldn’t be a bookseller and definitely not a bookshop owner! Because that’s always been the truth of a booksellers situation – a lot of effort for not much reward – assuming that the reward talked about is fiscal. However I am a bookseller and so my reward is and always has been the fact that I get to be surrounded by books every day, and when I add in the Christian Bookseller then that grows to be the reward of serving what I have always considered to be an important mission, being there in some small way for others and sharing my love of God’s word, religious books and theology 😀

    I honestly still think and advocate that there is real room for online and B&M to work together and build sympathetic strong ties and help grow each others business.
    I think E-books can also be a place where we can come together and do this, but you know the truth is as others have said – we have to be the ones to do it, no-one else is going to do it for us and if we don’t do it or at least make some sort of effort then we can’t moan about being left out when we didn’t try to get in!
    However I disagree it should all be on the B&M shop, I do wholeheartedly believe it should be a collaborative effort – stronger together, weaker apart!

    As ever Gareth, thanks for making me think and for sharing your insights and thoughts. These multi-platform discussions, sharings and insights are really important I think.

  11. Lol – and while me & Gareth discuss the differences looked for in an online ability between b&m and online sellers, good old Gardners just gets on and does the job to reveal things with an almost perfect timing for what were talking about here!

    Taking the idea of localbookshops.co.uk and the US Indiebound site to heart they are now almost here with http://www.hive.co.uk to check it out and look around just add /betasite to the addy.

    If you’re an indie and have an account with Gardners then I’m pretty sure you’ll have recieved the details today in the post for your consideration – if you don’t already have an account with Gardners then maybe now might be a good time to consider it.

    I also really think it’s time perhaps for someone to consider a fully Christian one too maybe, stronger together, weaker apart!

    So ok for some it’s maybe not perfect – the affiliate percentage on some things is a tad lower than I get from some other places – but then this one is literally pretty much all done for me so maybe that more than makes up for it and at the end of the day as I said before as far as i’m concerned ‘every little bit helps’ and something is better than nothing!

    Having said that I won’t be folding my own sites up, or even ignoring them – this for me will just be one more potential stream to serving my local customers in the ways that they want me to – there is room and plenty for all of us to work together and pick up trade from that working together if we really work together with goodwill and an ethic of community, friendship and fair trading in mind and at heart.

  12. Pingback: Time to go live with Hive? « The Christian Bookshops Blog

    • It really is possible it’s just a matter of finding the medium that suits, and they have always been good with media sales and being proactive at Keith Jones, something I’ve always admired about them 🙂
      I’m happy with my ebook affilliate page for now -it’s a cost and development thing as much as anything and though it’s not perfect and I really would love something more like we’ve been talking about – something thats stronger together and weaker apart! until then the affilliate angle seems to be working a little for me. It’s had a few hits and it even garnered me a little spot in Saturdays Lincoln Echo on page 6 which made me very happy – again courtesy of twitter and/or FB feeds doing the news sharing and outreaching to my wonderful local reporter who picked up on it 🙂

    • Yes I noticed that a couple of weeks ago now.
      Must say it does look quite fresh- I particularly like the sheet music component of it.
      Now if only there was a way for trade to be involved too.
      Still I’m sure that somewhere down the line there will be something for us soon from someone other than secular Hive.

  13. More ebooks news from the stateside!
    (Phil – any chance of adding an ebooks tag so I can find this easier when updating -lol)

    http://www.christianretailing.com/index.php/newsletter/latest-etailing/23263-e-books-solution-at-icrs – so in the states one company will soon be revealing the new solution for the Christian booktrade, surely we should be talking about this here now.

    http://www.christianretailing.com/index.php/newsletter/latest-etailing/23263-e-books-solution-at-icrs – The ECPA are now tracking ebook sales from their members.

    http://www.christianretailing.com/index.php/newsletter/latest-etailing/23263-e-books-solution-at-icrs – ok and cloud apps are getting attention because it would seem they can really help find and focus on niche markets in a local community – now how do we go about doing that here, any one know how to build a cloud app because I don’t!

    Now we really need to be paying attention to these things and working with our people here to see these things really start happening here – i am free to talk to anyone (waves) and I would really like to see us talking on this, we need to get moving here folks and it needs to be soon, and if there are hidden talks going on then please can you let us know so that at least we know there is some sort of movement happening! Thanks 😉

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