Tag Archives: ebooks

Publishing year 2017 in review: trends, analysis, developments

2017-12-16

It is not business as usual in the world of digital media. Ebooks and other digital media content products are still taking their first steps in the global and local markets. Many things in book business and digital technology changed in 2017 and will change in the coming years. It is only 10 years since the launch of Amazon Kindle, but 500 years from Gutenberg’s invention.

Book as a concept has proven it has its place – independent of the format. Year 2017 didn’t challenge that, although new ways of enjoying a book became more popular. The following key development points in publishing are reviewed primarily from the digital side of book publishing.

a speaker and audience at Frankfurt book fair

Ebook markets continue to grow

One publishing industry expert claims that the ebook market is shrinking, whereas another expert says it is growing. Both experts can be right when they only look at their own data sources. Big US publishers have lost ebook market share to small publishers and self-publishers. No one knows the actual sales numbers of indie publishers and self-publishers, but one can always estimate, and it looks like a large, growing market that is eating market share from big publishers.

Data collected from other than English-language markets indicate a healthy and innovative digital market development, for instance, in Continental Europe, Spanish-language markets and China. Even France is accepting ebooks and ereaders.

Audiobook is the fastest growing format

Book lovers in English-speaking markets are familiar with Audible audiobooks, but in many others parts of the world, Swedish startup Storytel is the reason for rapid growth of audiobooks. Storytel has been so successful that it has acquired traditional books publishers in order to secure rights for as many books as possible.

A key development that will have an effect on audiobook market is computer applications that can read aloud texts. They may be individual applications running on a tablet or smartphone, or voice assistants, like Alexa or Siri. The technology is pretty good already, and as it develops, it may lower product prices.

Attempts to automate writing may be more common than we are aware of

For years, we have heard of projects that have tried to automate the reporting of sports results and simple news reports. Meanwhile, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software has reached a level where it can be applied to simple writing tasks. The Washington Post is already using a robot writer, and clever programmers have created an algorithm that can imitate Harry Potter fiction.

Should a writer be worried? No. Someone must produce the source material for writing robots and review their output, among other things.

Ereaders are still here and still wanted by avid readers

I am the first one to admit that I expected tablets and large screen smartphones (phablets) to replace ereaders as ebook reading devices, but it hasn’t happened. In some markets, like the US and the UK, people who want an ereader already have one or two, and the market is saturated. In many other large markets, such as Germany, France, Spain and China, the market for ereaders is growing because the market for ebooks is still growing.

A key development during 2017 was the emergence of large screen ereaders. Devices from 7 to 13 inches are now available. Some of these have a stylus for making it easy to jot down notes on documents and books. A development path from one purpose device (reading ebooks) to a device that is designed for working with documents maybe going on.

Reading has moved to mobile devices

An ereader and a tablet is a mobile device, but the big hype of recent years has been reading on smartphone screens. Wattpad, a reading and writing community of young generations, says about 90% of its users read on mobile devices.

Digital reading is most popular from 5-inch smartphone screens to 10 tablet screens. It means that fixed layout ebooks still face challenges that reflowing ebooks can manage.

EPUB3 didn’t take off (and probably won’t next year, either)

Two ebook formats dominate the digital book markets: Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format and the industry standard EPUB. The advanced, multimedia-enabled EPUB3 ebook format was announced years ago, but is hasn’t made a commercial breakthrough. In February 2017, the organization behind EPUB, IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), was merged into the W3C (the organization that sets the standards for the World Wide Web). New working groups, committees and strategies have been formed, and the result is that a high level agreement for the next standard EPUB4 is in the works. EPUB4 is defined as a subset of Portal Web Publication that merges HTML and EPUB.

The euphoria of self-publishing is settling down

In large English-language markets, a small number of self-publishers have made it big. Their books have been produced into successful Hollywood movies and publishers are competing for their next manuscripts. The laws of economics haven’t changed, however, as indie authors are discovering that it is just as difficult to write a bestseller as it was before. Interest in self-publishing may be settling down in the US, but in many other large markets, such as Spanish-speaking countries, Continental Europe or in China, self-publishing is only beginning to take off.

Newspapers and magazines that have reinvented themselves are making it

Attempts to turn a newspaper or magazine web site visitors into subscribers who pay for the digital content on a web site have largely failed. Only a few strongest brands have become successful when they have started to charge readers for digital content. Newspapers and magazines, like The New York Times and The Economist deliver so much value to readers that visitors are willing to pay for news stories, and especially, long reports, analysis and background stories of major events. Some other publications have discovered their own strategies for thriving in the digital era while maintaining their valuable printed heritage.

Ebooks and ereaders have found their audience in France

2017-12-06

Large English-language markets, such as the US and the UK are leading the transition to ebooks, but large European countries, like France, Germany, Italy and Spain are beginning to turn to digital reading as well. A survey conducted in France indicates that ebooks are already well established (21% of French have read an abook), especially, among avid readers who like to use ereader devices.

Amazon Kindle ereader on laptop keyboard
Global internet giants who are marketing ebooks, like Amazon and Google have taken a strong position in the French market. These companies and for instance, Kobo provide ereading devices and reading applications for all popular computing platforms. According to the survey, book lovers in France tend to buy ebooks both from the reading application of their choice and directly from a major bookstore.

Here are highlights from the 2017 ebook survey results in France:

– 21% of the French population aged 15 and over have already read a digital book.
– Vast majority use dedicated ereader devices for reading ebooks (82%). Tablet is used for reading by 18%, smartphone by 10%, PC by 7% and a tablet/laptop hybrid by 6%. If we combine tablet and hybrid device numbers, tablet is used by 24%.
– Ebooks haven’t much changed reading habits or spending in books: 64% buy as much as before, 16% purchase more, 20% buy less.
– 73% have downloaded free ebooks.
– Three channels dominate the distribution of ebooks: the bookstore connected to the reading application (29% of ebook readers buy from the app default store), large global bookstores (27%) and French bookstores (24%).
– 63% of readers like to pay for an ebook when they need it. Only 7% is interested in paying for a subscription, and 20% in loaning digital books.
– The most read ebook genres: novels 61%, essays 28%, guides 23%, technical 21%, science 21%.
– Many people who read ebooks are avid readers: 21% of them read also more than 20 printed books per year.

The survey was conducted in France by OpinionWay in February 2017. First, 2006 people (aged 15 and over) were interviewed via telephone, and after that, 506 ebook users responded to an online survey.

Via Actualitte.

The survey results document in French below:

Barometre Usage Livre Numerique 2017 SNE SOFIA SGDL by ActuaLitté on Scribd

How ebook readers choose which book they want to buy?

2017-11-20

A traditional wisdom says that a book’s author, title and cover are the key factors for a customer to make a purchase decision. A survey conducted in Germany among people who mostly read ebooks published by indie authors shows slightly different decision making preferences.

Amazon Kindle ereader in hand, books in the background
The survey among 2342 people in Germany discovered that the most important factor for their purchase decision was the book description. Writing a blurp is a difficult job already, and this piece of data only raises the standard.

Here are the survey results for the question how readers choose which book to buy:

89% of readers decide to buy a book based on the book description.
65% trust the author’s name.
49% of readers trust reviews.
48% can be convinced by a smart book cover.
46% of buyers go after the price.
45% title makes a difference.
15% are affected by the book’s bestseller rank.

Die Self Publisher Bible, survey resultsSource: Die Self Publisher Bibel.

The full results of the survey can be viewed (with graphs) at Die Self Publisher Bibel.

Anja at Indies Go German has translated some of the survey results to English with brief analysis.

It looks like Germans who prefer reading indie authors favor Kindle instead of German-based Tolino ebooks and ereaders. In the general German ebook market Amazon Kindle and Tolino are, however, considered to have practically equal market shares.

According to the survey, for German ebook readers, bookstores are the most important way to find new ebooks. So, searching, exploring book descriptions, reading reviews, downloading samples and all the functionality at an online bookstore really matters to readers.

If you think about the times gone by when the only place to find new books was a bookstore, the decision-making process is quite similar with ebooks. At a brick-and-mortar bookstore, you wander along corridors and scan the bookshelves. Something catches your eye, you stop, and pick up the book. You browse the book, view the cover and perhaps read a paragraph here and there. If everything matches with what you were looking for, it’s a deal.

Investors are betting big time on an ebook startup in China

2017-11-11

Tencent is a large social media and gaming enterprise in China, but the company has also been developing an online book publishing business. The ebook arm of the enterprise grew so rapidly that Tencent decided to detach it from the mother ship by issuing an IPO (Initial Public Offering) at Hong Kong Stock Exchange on November 8, 2017. Investors couldn’t get enough of shares, raising the price so high that it became the largest technology related IPO in Hong Kong since Alibaba.com was listed in 2007.

Chinese book cover images
The new startup is simply called China Literature, but the development of its digital publishing business was not simple.

China Literature already has a mind-boggling catalog of 9.6 million works from 6.4 million authors. Sure, China is a vast market, the largest in the world, but still, the numbers are incomprehensible. Here is how it is possible.

The company has developed two popular applications: QQ Reading and Qudian. Readers can use these apps to download ebooks, see what their friends are reading, rate and review titles, and receive recommendations from others.

In addition to purchasing titles from established publishing houses, readers who have written a book can self-publish their works directly to China Literature’s ebook store.

China Literature’s apps have proven to be the drivers for reader engagement. The applications let readers interact with writers and it helps writers to learn about their audience. For example, micropayments are used for allowing readers to download sections from ebooks. That is one of the features of the QQ Reading app.

Opening chapters of books are free, but after the first chapter readers have to pay 5 yuan ($0.75) per 1,000 characters. China Literature also has a subscription service that gives customers full access to select titles. The subscription fee is between 10 yuan and 18 yuan per month ($1.51 and $2.71).

New developments include readnovel.com that promises “literary works concerning campus life and contemporary romance”, and possibly TV shows and movies as well.

Via Quartz.

EU country Portugal has banned the use of DRM in ebooks in certain cases

2017-10-25

Portugal may not be a forerunner of digital media business within the European Union, but Portugal’s lawmakers have taken a significant step towards consumer friendly digital media and ebooks. Portugal has banned the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in ebooks when the works are in public domain or they are published by the government.

woman reading an ebook on the beach. Photo by  Michael Mol.
The new restriction for DRM technology in Portugal is included in the law (Law No. 36/2017 of June 2, 2017) that has been effective since June 2017. Three key points that deal with DRM technology in the law are permission to break DRM in certain cases, prohibiting the use of DRM completely in certain cases, and the requirement to have the copyright holder’s permission for the application of DRM.

1. Permission to circumvent DRM protection in digital media products.
In specific fair use cases, anyone is allowed to break or circumvent DRM restrictions in digital products. The cases include reproduction of content for private use, for news reporting, for use by libraries and archives, for teaching and education, in quotation, for persons with disabilities, and for digitizing orphan works.

2. DRM is not allowed at all in specific types of digital products.
The new law prohibits applying DRM to any works that are in public domain and to works published or financed by the government. Citizens are allowed to break DRM in these works if the technology has been applied.

3. Copyright holder must give an explicit permission to the use of DRM.
This may not have a large effect on the business of ebooks since all distribution agreements already include a statement if DRM will be applied to the products and what kind of technology is used.

What is Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Digital Rights Management is a software technology that is used to control the ways a digital media product, such as an ebook or a movie download can be used by customers. The most common application is to restrict the number of copies a customer can make from an ebook he or she has purchased.

Some big digital media stores, such as the Amazon Kindle Store and the Apple iBooks Store have their own DRM technologies that are built in to the purchase process. Customers don’t see that the products have DRM until a built-in restriction is triggered.

Other stores that use Adobe DRM for controlling the use of downloaded products tend to have issues with the technology. Customers must create an Adobe account and a store account in order to purchase a product, which makes it a somewhat troublesome system.

News about Portugal’s new law via EFF.

The five tech giants are also media business giants that dominate the distribution of ebooks

2017-10-23

Five tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are marketing products that most of us use daily – some people perhaps use them most of the hours they are awake. Each of these tech giants is – one way or another – a media company. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft sell digital media products from their online stores. Facebook and Google are categorized as publishers in a number of markets, because they distribute news and information to the public. All these companies have enormous powers to promote or block items and products.
Microsoft ebook store in the Edge web browser
Facebook reports it has more than two billion active users on its social media service. About 45 percent of American adults get news from Facebook. Although Facebook doesn’t admit it is a media company, that’s how it is treated, for instance, within EU.

Google’s search market share in the U.S. approaches 86 percent, whereas in Europe it is over 90 percent. Google’s primary business is advertising, but the Play Store features music, movies and ebooks as well.

About 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S. last year went through Amazon. The vast majority of ebook sales in the U.S. is conducted by Amazon.

Microsoft has a dominant position in PC software with its Windows software, and Apple has grown to the most valuable company in the world because of its computers and mobile devices that customers are ready to pay premium for.

Curiously enough, four companies out of five tech giants are also booksellers. Only Facebook hasn’t opened an ebook store.
Amazon Kindle Store
Amazon, of course, gets the credit for facilitating the ebook’s breakthrough into a mass market product with the Kindle and low ebook prices. The company is the undisputable leader of the ebook business in the world. Not only has Amazon a role as a book retailer, but the company is also a book publisher, translation firm and a marketer.

Apple was the pioneer of music downloads with the iTunes Store where people could find MP3 songs for their iPods and PCs. Ebooks were introduced to the iBooks store along with the iPad tablet.

Google started scanning printed books from libraries because the company wanted to archive and index all the information in the world. Many years and legal problems later, Google has agreements with publishers to sell their ebooks at the Play Store.

Microsoft has marketed applications and games in its digital download store, and has added ebooks to the store as well, although the market coverage is limited at the moment. The new Edge web browser can open EPUB books without any additional plugins or tricks.
Google Play Books store for ebooks

What do the tech giants’ media businesses mean for ebooks?

If we think about the global ebook business, the tech giants dominate the distribution of digital products to customers. Only Kobo has the global reach that is anywhere close to the giants, but Kobo probably does not have the customer base to generate the same amount of sales as the tech giants.

In every market, local online bookstores compete against the global giants. In many markets, local booksellers may have a larger market share than the giants. Tolino in Central Europe, for instance, is a strong brand and sales channel for ebooks in the German speaking part of the world.

For tech giants, ebooks are not necessarily the core products they will bet their futures on. Tech companies’ priorities are in software, cloud services, hardware, artificial intelligence, and in other new technologies. Amazon is the only company that (at the moment) is an online retailer first, and technology supports that goal.
Apple iBooks Store
Let’s take a look at other types of digital media products and which companies dominate those markets. Online movies and television shows are streamed and downloaded from Netflix and Hulu. Music is discovered and streamed to homes and mobile devices from Spotify and Pandora.

Only ebooks are purchased from tech giants. Isn’t it a bit strange?

Perhaps ebook subscription services, like Scribd, 24 Symbols, Storytel, Bookmate will change the landscape of distribution of ebooks one day. Perhaps Kobo is able to compete against the giants in the future. Perhaps a group of investors believes there is a place for an independent global bookstore and establishes one that is in line with the interests of the ebook trade.

Dual-screen Hisense A2 smartphone is also an ereader

2017-04-10

Common smartphone screen sizes are between 5 and 6 inches, and the most common ereader screen size is six inches. Reading a book on a bright and colorful smartphone display is pretty convenient these days. The downside is that the color screen drains the battery and it is still difficult to read in sunlight. So, why not build a smartphone with two screens: a color screen for apps and a black-and-white screen for ebooks.

Hisense A2 smartphone ereader. Photo: maistecnologia.com

Hisense A2. Photo: maistecnologia.com


The Hisense A2 is the latest product that has implemented just that. The smartphone comes with a 5.5-inch color display and a 5.2 E ink display. One side of the phone is used as an ordinary smartphone and the other side an ereader. Two devices in one product.

01net had an opportunity to get their hands on a Hisense A2 prototype. Their first impression was positive, so it seems that we finally could have a proper dual-screen smartphone for ebooks by the end of 2017. The price is expected to be around 400 euros.

Similar products have been available in some markets earlier. Yotaphone has returned to the business, introducing the Yotaphone 2. Its availability, however, is unclear at the moment. Also Onyx, which has successfully introduced a number of ereaders recently, had a dual-screen smartphone earlier, but it didn’t live long.

The Hisense A2 is already available in China, running on Android software.


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Bonnier takes digital disruption seriously, establishes publishing company for ebooks and audiobooks

2017-03-28

Very few (if any) traditional book publishers have given their ebook business the freedom to independently from the mother ship run their operation. Bonnier opens a new publishing company Bookery in April 2017 which specializes in ebooks and audiobooks alone. This is the classic method for managing disruption caused by a new technology in large companies: let the new company compete in the changing markets on its own terms.

ereader on top of stack of books
Media company Bonnier operates in 15 countries, primarily in Europe. The company was established 200 years ago in Sweden, where its headquarters still are located. In addition to books, the family owned business publishes magazines, newspapers, broadcast media, and owns bookstore chains.

If a visionary manager tries to run a new business within a large corporation like that, he or she is often doomed to fail. The new business may compete in different terms than the primary business, and may even compete head-to-head with the corporation’s main business. It is not usually tolerated, and the new business doesn’t have room to operate.

So, establishing a separate company for a new business indicates that the headquarters is serious about the new thing. In this case, Bonnier has determined it is time to take digital book publishing seriously.

The management for the new digital-only company has been hired from outside Bonnier. The CEO of Bookery Åsa Selling told SVB: “We believe series and short texts work well in digital formats. Above all novels, but also non-fiction. Now, we will talk to authors who are willing to write stories for the new formats. They can be plain ebooks, but also audiobooks that are something else than simply recorded readings.”

Bookery aims at sourcing and publishing 20-25 new titles per year with the first ebooks available in 2018.

Are travel coloring books the ultimate relaxation option on the road?

2016-12-01

There are times during every traveler’s journey when it would be smart to switch off brains from constant planning ahead, working, or worrying about what can go wrong. Some (printed) book publisher believe they have a cure for traveler’s anxiety: the travel coloring book. Coloring books for adults were recently popular, but now, it is possible to find a coloring book for your special interest, such as travel.
travel coloring books, cover images
The theory is that since the world inside a travel coloring book is already organized and static, the tourist can manage the world drawn on the pages of the book by coloring it the way he or she wants. It is supposed to take your thoughts away from anything that may burden your mind and from everything around you.

Maybe that is exactly why many travelers have their music collection on a smartphone or on an iPod with them and they listen to their favorite artists when they want some distance to the world around. Some travelers, surprisingly, read books, whereas others watch movies, or sip gin and tonics.

There are many ways to relax on the road apart from coloring books. Yet, it is an interesting trend. Whoever was the mastermind that thought of producing coloring books for adults must be congratulated. Creating a new trend is once-in-a-lifetime event.

If you want to color Paris or San Francisco on your flight across the Atlantic or the American continent, it is possible (Amazon). Or perhaps you would like recolor 30 World Heritage Sites in your favorite colors? Kobo bookstore markets ebooks that contain drawings that you can print out and then recolor.

The New York Times discovered that some upmarket hotels give guests coloring books and crayons as they check in. There was a time when it was cool to have the morning’s newspaper delivered behind your hotel room door in the morning, and a time when Wi-Fi was new. Now, it is books.

What about ebooks? Are there any coloring ebooks that you could use on your Kindle ereader or on the iPad tablet? Not really. While it is possible to produce an ebook application or Apple iAuthor book that lets you change colors of objects on the screen, these types of interactive multimedia ebooks are very expensive to create. Travel guidebooks that feature reliable and useful information on your destination can be viewed here.

If the coloring book trend continues after 2016, we may see a few ebook coloring books in the market. Otherwise, it is the old, proven paper, ink and crayon technology that dominates the coloring book business.

Globally, ebook markets to continue steady growth during the next few years

2016-10-22

In North America, where Amazon kicked off the modern ebook business in 2007, some book industry experts today are lamenting the recent decline of ebook revenues. Ebook markets outside the US, however, have a different situation and possibly also outlook for the future. PWC, a consultancy, forecasts that globally ebook sales continue to grow steadily, whereas print book revenues continue their gradual fall. PWC’s forecast is projected until 2020.

pwc, book publishing forecast 2020Annual growth rate for ebooks 10.4% and for print books -0.4% until 2020 according to PWC.
In regions like Europe, Asia and the Pacific, the adoption of ebooks have been a lot slower than in the US. For instance, in many European countries the market share of ebooks from the total book market is at 1 – 5% level. There is room for growth. Plenty of it. Sales channels are still being established (for instance, grocery store Aldi in Germany and subscription service Storytel in Scandinavia), tax laws are being amended (in order to treat ebooks equally with print books), self-publishing services are being set up, and people are realizing that large screen smartphones are reading devices.

Do you remember when the Internet bubble burst in 2001? It had been a wild run since the IPO of Netscape in 1995. For some pundits, 2001 was the end of the Internet business and tech business. Well, what happened? Today, they are shaping our world in all fields of life: transportation, entertainment, shopping, working, relationships, you name it.

The fact is that the world is taking its first baby steps in the new era of digital media that today also features electronic books. Today’s ebooks are more or less direct conversions of print books into electronic format – sometimes not even conversions if an ebook is delivered as an PDF file. Multimedia and augmented reality are some of the technologies that may get smartphone-generations to read commercial ebooks just like they read fan fiction, messages or watch online videos. Books will develop with technology, but the concept of book is so strong that it will remain.

So, yes, PWC’s cautious forecast for global annual ebook revenue growth of 10.4% is way more likely to happen than the decline of revenues in the US would turn into a long term trend.

pwc book publishing market forecast

Finally, European Union agrees that ebooks are books

2016-09-19

It is the content that matters. A book is a book regardless of the method you use to read it. A book printed on paper conveys the same ideas, information, excitement and messages as an electronic book enjoyed on a tablet, ereader or smartphone. Now, the European Union agrees with this concept. It means that the VAT for ebooks can be the same as it is for printed books.
kindle page flip video
So far, the VAT for ebooks in EU countries has been higher than for printed books. In some countries paper books don’t have VAT at all, but ebooks may have 15-24% VAT. It is a significant price difference.

France rebelled against the different VAT levels for books and ebooks already in 2013, but EU told France and later Luxembourg that they have to follow the rules. Ebooks were considered electronically supplied services rather than media products because ebooks are being delivered electronically, and there is no physical product. The great project to standardize VAT levels in EU had already started, and media products were part of it. France, Luxembourg and other countries were told to wait for the big VAT reform.

Now, Financial Times reports that Pierre Moscovici, the EU tax commissioner, agreed that ebooks are books. The commission will propose legislation to address the problem during October 2016. National governments will have to approve the initiative after that, but it is difficult to see why any government would want to stop it.

The next interesting story will be the level of VAT for ebooks. Will it be as low as it is for printed books, or will the VAT for paper books be raised to the same higher level than it is for ebooks?

Book lover’s vacation accessories

2016-08-28

It goes without saying that a book lover loads a fresh stack of ebooks on his or her tablet or ereader when packing for a vacation. In some countries the busiest vacation months are also the hottest months for ebook sales. But you also have to think about the destination climate, mode of transportation and technical standards when packing electronics (or paper book) for the trip.

Bookpub has published a great blog post where they introduce 11 products for book lovers who are going to a vacation. The ereader case and stand pictured above is one of the 11 accessories. You can find all the products here.