The Shatzkin Files

Ebook growth continues to accelerate; how long can this go on?

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A busy day today, but time for some very quick and simple math.

The IDPF’s figures for January show nearly a 4-fold increase in ebook sales over the prior January. Recent reports suggests that ebook sales are now in the 3%+ range for some big publishers.  But that’s a bit of an understatement of reality because so many books haven’t been ebookable (illustrated) and the backlist has been introduced gradually over time (which accounts for part of the increase.) Sales of ebook editions of new straight text titles are higher with 5% more like a minimum expectation than an average.

Meanwhile, we know this year we’ll be adding our new client Copia (with six devices and a platform that works on just about everything else except Kindle), B&T’s Blio, the iStore and Apple iPad, the Google Editions program, and a host of other new devices as well as expected next generation readers (with color, perhaps) from Kindle and Nook. Those new ebook platforms will keep the title increase going because they include an ability to deliver a more robust presentation on a larger screen.

So would we expect the pace of ebook adoption to slow down in the next 12 months from what it has been over the last 12 months? I wouldn’t, and there won’t be a slowdown until ebooks hit some new point of resistance by penetrating the market to the point of saturation. Where would that be? Your guess is as good as mine.

It is worth pondering that if the rate of growth remains about the same (let’s call it 3.5 times growth annually to be conservative about where it stands now) for the next 12 months, then the ebook minimum expectation by next Christmas would be between 15 and 20 percent of the sales of a new title. And then it can’t really continue the same growth rate the following year because that would take us to a great majority of books read being ebooks. And I don’t think you’ll find anybody expecting 60% or more ebook penetration in two years.

So my hunch is that growth will continue to accelerate for a while longer and then it will have to start slowing down. But my guess (which is as good as yours!) is that it won’t start slowing down until ebook sales are 20-25% of what a publisher expects on a new title. I’d take the bet that we reach that level before Obama’s re-election in November, 2012. Given the historical trend line, that’s a very conservative prediction, although, as I write it, it seems like I’m going way out on a limb.

What does 20-25% ebook sales fewer than 30 months from now mean if it happens? A lot of disruption.

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  • It's crazy when you think about it. I know I've been pretty actively following the growth in the eBook market for a little over a year now and with the last batch of numbers the AAP released, the situation suddenly got very real.

    I am wondering, though. Can eBooks really break the 20% barrier without a fundamental either in both format and professionalism?

    As we leave the innovators and early adopters and move into the early majority, will the current state of the eBook be enough to justify sales on level with early adopters, or will there be eBook sales explosions around gifting periods and then further blips along major releases?

    • All reasonable conjecture, but I'm not sure how applicable it all is. The
      growth in ebook sales is not exclusively driven by dedicated devices;
      iPhones and other smart phones are part of it. Lots of people still read
      ebooks on PCs and laptops and netbooks. And we're about to see the iPad land
      on the scene as well. So device sales as presents and new devices drive some
      of the ebook growth, but nowhere near all of it.


      • Someone else tonight actually pointed me to the survey results from BSIG/Bowker that had 47% of respondents stating that they read eBooks on desktops and that number really shocked me. (link:…)

        Perhaps my view of the market is too US-based, or even to gadget-focused, but I'm having trouble getting 47% desktop vs 32% Kindle to jive with the oft-touted 90% market share Amazon is purported to have in the US.

        Do that many people really purchase and read eBooks on a traditional form factor computer? The number just seems kind of high to me.

      • Until Kindle, PDF was the overwhelming choice for ereading. The story is
        that a lot of romance book reading is done on office PCs.

        I agree that the desktop consumption versus Kindle sale seems an anomaly,
        except that there has been a Kindle for PC client for a while. And there are
        books not sold on Kindle that are read on desktops, although that wouldn't
        account for the numbers.


      • daftdomain

        very well said. I agree. Check this out

      • Love read a Ebook . Thi is extra think

  • babetteross

    Mike, I wonder if there are similar statistics on the adaption in other industries (like between album–>cd or cd–>mp3.) It is far from a clean comparison but might be useful if such data existed. My quick Google search left me empty handed.

    I would also think ebook sales would continue to grow with the proliferation of devices – as each new device ramps up its own marketing campaign I would think that in general ebook awareness grows. And grows outside of publishing circles.

    Solely basing an opinion on my social circle (which is certainly not a statistically relevant metric) more and more people who are very casual readers are interested in ebooks…. this hasn't translated to sales yet but I suspect it will before the year is out.

    • Well, Babette, there are statistics about how fast music moved from packaged
      CD sales to digital downloads. I don't stay on top of this, but I think
      digital downloads still aren't as much as half the market. But a lot changes
      with music, because the downloads are mostly individual songs and the
      packaged sales are, of course whole albums.

      Totally agree about the impact of marketing devices. My clients at Copia
      have told me that major hardware retailers will be devoting substantial
      space for Christmas 2010 to ebook devices. No doubt that drives awareness,
      sales of devices, and ultimately, sales of a lot more ebooks. It's
      inevitable. That's why I can't see the 4x growth stopping anytime soon.


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  • The timing of all this makes me smile. I've been calling my memoir a multimedia project since I started it three years ago. I started off thinking I'd have videos available on my website for my readers. Now I'm in contact with Vook(, and there are hand held devices that can support a multimedia platform. Love it!

  • dennis_hill

    Looked at the Copia Web site–why all the measurements in metric system? Do they really want to sell in the U.S.? 😉

    • Dennis, that's a good point. I'll make it to them!


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  • maxguevara

    Totally agree with you that it's too early for the rate of growth to slow down. Especially for companies publishing certain types of books.
    I wonder whether there are any reports showing how the eBook sales share changes depending on the type of book. I work for an independent professional publishing house in the UK and sales of downloadable eBooks there (not digital content sold to libraries or via database subscription) are really really tiny. Also know that some really good children books publishers are still giving baby steps in the eBook world – Blio and the iPad might accelerate the process for them maybe.

    • Max, I've never seen the kind of granular breakdown you correctly say would
      be helpful. The only stats really are the IDPF numbers, which are whole
      market rollups.


  • E-book will not stop to grow and expect that e-book's features will upgrade few years from now.

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  • Allen Quain

    Your E-book predictions are credible, but why bind them to a less-than-credible prediction of “Obama’s reelection in November 2012”? E-book growth notwithstanding, the 2012 elections may very well prove to upset the apple-cart. You'll be taken seriously by more people if you keep partisan politics to yourself while disseminating your publishing expertise.

    • I don't mind not being “taken seriously” by people who are offended by my
      politics. Or who disagree with them. That's one of the advantages of being
      totally independent. I really don't have to give a damn. And I don't.


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  • Digital technology has been liberating for every art form that was constrained by physical limitations. Audio used to be limited by the cost of producing and boxing CDs. No wonder cause it's so convenient, personally I also prefer audiobooks I find by SE to paper books. I just find it interesting that audiobook production is undergoing a similar acceleration. This time last year audiobook recording studios were looking at the future with a great deal of worry and uncertainty. Now they’re swamped, and major-length works of 20 hours or more are becoming the standard, where before a long audiobook was an unabridged 10- to 12-hour set.
    I wonder if there is any connection here. I’m thinking that the same devices — iPhone, iPod, iTouch, iPad (gee, is there a common thread there?) — are driving sales across media.

    • It is definitely true that the constraints of physical media affected
      product forms. I hadn't thought about the impact of digital downloads on the
      length of audio and the inclination to move to unabridged, but, of course,
      it makes sense.


  • I think that there is one other thing that you have to take a look at in this assessment, and that is the factor of textbooks for e-readers. When the full functionality comes for this (meaning increased graphics capability), we are going to see a huge explosion in the market.

    D. Alan.

    • I think Blio has its eye firmly on that market!


  • Jamel K

    So what does all that really mean? According to Shatzkin, “A lot of disruption.”=))

  • Maybe it's time to realize that ebook sales are not cross-linked to paperbook sales. There is a different market for each. For many years the number of readers of paperbooks has declined without the help of ebooks. The arrival of ebooks and their reading devices opened up a new market niche – those who are computer savvy, owners of PDAs, iPhones, iPads etc. These so-called 'nerdy' types were not big into reading paperbooks. Digital books for the first time exposed them to a new world of online ebookshops and other content.
    The growth in ebooks sales comes from this sector – not from those conservative (and dedicated ) paperbook lovers.

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  • Thanks for the post Mike,i agree with des here, it's time to realize that ebook sales are not cross-linked to paperbook sales!

  • I get annoyed now when I can't get an ebook version of a book. I don't want paper. I either want an audiobook or a ebook for my ereader. When will I be able to get a subscription service like Audible for ebooks?

    I'm a life long reader. The advent of ebooks does mean I'll by fewer paper books but not fewer books. I may even consume more books.

    • I'm with you and have felt this way myself for years.

      As for subscriptions, they'll come. It's complicated. You'll want to get the

      subscription from an aggregator, not a publisher (because you don't want to

      read only one publisher's books.) It is a challenge for a retailer or some

      new-style book club to figure out this pricing model and then get publishers

      to go along (which will require the publishers to get agents to go along.)

      But it will happen. I'd say it is at least a couple of years away from a

      serious try, though.


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  • 12345shop

    great post

  • I think the subscription works really done.

  • Harrizfaith

    Ebooks are now widely spreading on the online community and I believe Ebooks has a big future on its field of providing electronic books replacing books on the shelves…

    Ella Faith Harriz
    Equipment Finance

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