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How Big is the Market for Ebooks in English? Larger Than You Think.

10 February 2011

If you’re publishing ebooks, English is the language you want.


We want to know how many candidates to read books in English are in the US, in the rest of the English-speaking countries, and then in the non-English countries. Wikipedia says the world contains 914 million English speakers, of which 251 million are in the US, 232 million in India, and 168 million in the non-English countries in Europe. But that data has provenance of no consistent timing, and the US data, for example, is from the 2000 census.

One source I talked to recently who holds a statistics-oriented job and who has reason to know, insists the world has 600 million native English speakers and 1.4 billion English speakers in other countries. If that were true, the US would have less than a sixth of the total within its boundaries.

. . . .

But even back in the early years of the past decade, the number of ebooks available in English dwarfed the number most European language consumers will find this year or next. The incredibly paltry number of books converted to epub in most European countries absolutely assures that our European friends will encounter the same annoying frustration I did.

Until they shop for ebooks in English.

And they will. Indeed, they do. I reported in the prior post that we’ve heard anecdotally that 25% of the printed books sold in Denmark are in English. A friend in tiny Slovenia reports that more than 15% of the books sold there are in English. A Scandinavian bookseller with several stores in Scandinavia and Berlin whom I met at IfBookThen reported that 20% of the books he sells are in English. And those sales are being achieved despite the cost (and, therefore, price) and supply (and, therefore, choice) barriers inherent in physical goods.

. . . .

One American friend at a large general house not in the Big Six told me last week that 10% of the ebooks he’s selling are from outside the US (and that wouldn’t be including the UK.) A global ebook retailer told me that 7% of their English-language sales today come from non-English countries. Those numbers will rise inexorably, and sometimes in explosive spurts, for many years to come. It would require one to see around more corners and over more mountains than I care to attempt to forecast how high a percentage of English-language ebook sales might ultimately be made in non-English countries, but it would surely seem that figuring they’ll reach 25-35 percent over the next five or ten years or so wouldn’t be an outlandish guess. (Whether five or ten will be much clearer in one or two.)

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Ebooks, Mike Shatzkin, Non-US