The UK Publishers Association has tallied up the numbers for the book market in the United Kingdom in 2014, and the results are pleasant reading for ebook publishers, but not so for print book publishers. Revenues from digital products accounted for 35% of the total market in the UK in 2014. The total market was GBP 4.3 billion, down 2% from previous year. The rapid growth in sales of ebooks couldn’t compensate the decline of printed books in the UK.
Highlights from the Publishers Association report:
– Fiction is still the hottest ebook category with sales increasing to 37% of total ebook market value.
– Children’s books (up 36%) – with the sector up 11% overall.
– Academic textbooks (up 17%) now at 24% of sector sales.
– Audiobook downloads up 24% from previous year.
– Educational materials for schools up 20%.
We have been closely following the ebook market for five years (Klaava Media is a non-fiction ebook publisher), and it still hasn’t stopped surprising us. A year ago, growth in the U.S., the ebook market leader showed first signs of slowing down. Early 2015 proved it to be worse than that, because ebook revenues decreased for the first time since 2007.
In other parts of the world, however, it is completely different situation. In many countries, annual ebook growth numbers are huge, because digital market share from total book market can be anywhere from 1 to 10%. Countries, such as Germany, Netherlands and France are now experiencing high growth rates because large product selection in digital format is available for readers and competing retail systems, like Amazon, Apple iBooks, Google Play and Tolino fight for digital customers.
Why is the US ebook market so different to the rest of the world?
Some analysts have already voted for the return of agency pricing in the US that has caused somewhat higher prices, slowing down sales of ebooks. We don’t believe it is the reason for the US market setback. The real reason is a natural cycle of the new, strongly developing tech/media market.
Amazon Kindle ereader started this wave in 2007. It was a new device designed solely for reading ebooks. The Kindle and low-cost Kindle ebooks were the reason why the first wave was successful in the English-language markets. Since then, many other E ink ereader brands have been introduced, but the sales of pure ereader devices have been declining for some time already.
Tablets and phablets. More and more people are enjoying digital books because they are able to read books on a tablet or on a large-screen smartphone they already have. Outside English-language markets, the growth of ebooks really took off with tablets and it continues with the success of phablets.
Ebooks will develop further. Currently, ebooks are more or less just like their print book cousins, only the layout may slightly differ. Especially, non-fiction books, textbooks, academic books, and online publications will benefit from the new possibilities digital technology allows for books, such as video, audio, and interactivity.
EPUB3, Apple iBooks and to some extent Kindle book formats already allow creating such books, but compatibility with reader devices and apps is poor at the moment. This is where we will see all kinds of successful and less successful trials in the next few years. Some of them will stick and show the way to the future of book.
The U.S., UK or any other market hasn’t yet moved to the third wave (or beyond). When it happens, expect strong growth for media we used to call books.