Home » Amazon, Ebooks, Non-US » Is Japan’s Rakuten the second biggest player in the western ebook and audiobook markets?

Is Japan’s Rakuten the second biggest player in the western ebook and audiobook markets?

23 January 2018

From The New Publishing Standard:

I’ve long been a lone voice on the indie circuit advocating authors take digital libraries seriously.

Admittedly back in 2011 it wasn’t so easy to get into OverDrive, but doing what isn’t easy is what separates the career author from the rest.

As I said four years ago back in January 2014,

Too many indie authors have their heads in the sand about the way things are developing out there. Wake up and smell the coffee! Subscription ebook reading and library ebook reading are the new black.

Why pay Amazon, or B&N, or Kobo, or Sony for every single ebook you read when you can pay a token fee at the library or a monthly subscription and read as much as you like, with exactly the same ease and convenience as from an online retailer?

This a full year and a half before Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited, and in response to news that OverDrive’s digital lending had crossed the 100 million downloads per year threshold in 2013.

Just how significant that was only becomes clear when we consider that the 102 million downloads in 2013 was equal to the OverDrive digital downloads of the entire previous ten years.

The breakdown then (for 2013) was 79 million ebook checkouts and 22.9 million digital audiobook checkouts.

. . . .

Amazon counts a KU download as a sale when compiling the charts, regardless of whether these downloads are later read and therefore paid out on.

That in itself raises questions about the “author earnings” aspect of the report, as well as the true number of unit sales, because the paid charts are warped by downloads of books that are never paid for.

But the real issue here is those library downloads, which from OverDrive alone amounted to just shy of 200 million in 2016, the period covered by the last Author Earnings Report.

. . . .

Yet the Author Earnings Report completely ignores them. There is not a single mention of OverDrive or digital library downloads in the last Author Earnings Report, covering the year 2016. which attributed 440 million ebook sales to Amazon and just 44 million to Apple.

. . . .

Now let’s take a closer look at the 2017 OverDrive figures, where there are more surprises in store.

Because alongside that 225 million actual downloads of ebooks and audiobooks in 2017, another 83 million possible downloads were on hold because the titles were already out on loan and readers were patiently waiting for them to be returned.

As to the downloads that did happen, 59 libraries delivered a million downloads each, 14 libraries saw 2 million downloads, 7 libraries saw three million downloads each.

Two libraries crossed the magical four million mark, with the Toronto Public Library on the way to 5 million downloads, reaching 4.6 million.

But the big surprise came not from North America, but from Singapore.

. . . .

[I]n October 2017 OverDrive launched the world’s first digital business library in, you guessed it, Singapore.

With no Kindle store to select from, Singaporeans downloaded 1.5 million digital downloads from OverDrive in 2017.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG suspects that OverDrive may not be willing to give Author Earnings access to borrowing data.

Additionally, the last time PG checked, Overdrive was not accessible by indie authors except through Draft2Digital, Smashwords, etc. Overdrive is, of course, definitely not available to authors who make the decision to exclusively publish on Amazon.

With no disrespect to Smashwords, etc., Amazon makes it financially attractive for indies to publish there on an exclusive basis. More than one indie author makes very good money from KU/KOLL borrows. It would be nice if Overdrive borrows paid indies as well.

Perhaps it does, but PG hasn’t heard about it. We’re talking net monthly or annual income, not per-page royalty rates which may not translate into serious dollars. The Amazon book store is superbly designed to drive book (and especially ebook) sales. Overdrive not so much.

Although PG hasn’t researched Overdrive stats, he suspects the majority of the books Overdrive lends are still from traditional publishing. From the viewpoint of a library administrator, it’s far easier to pay Overdrive rather than deal with a gaggle of indie authors.

But he could be wrong.

OTOH, OverDrive’s owner, Rakuten, appears to be a smart and aggressive company. Should it decide to do so, Rakuten might be in a position to provide some serious funding for Kobo (now owned by Rakuten) to compete much more aggressively with Amazon in ebook sales.

Amazon, Ebooks, Non-US

13 Comments to “Is Japan’s Rakuten the second biggest player in the western ebook and audiobook markets?”

  1. I ALWAYS check Overdrive before purchasing a book on Amazon. Not ONE SINGLE TIME has a book I was looking to purchase

    a) Been available


    b) Not already checked out.

    Overdrive is fine if you are ok waiting for the book you really want. But when I’m looking for a book to read, I’m looking to read it right then.

    The problem is, if I click “Place a Hold”, then when I finally get notified that the book is checked out to me, I have to stop reading the book I’m reading to read that one. Just doesn’t work. So, I check, but I generally don’t check out.

    • You are describing exactly my experience, but I’ll add that Murphy’s law says that if I put five books on hold over a period of time (usually weeks), at least four of the five will become available within the same week. Since there’s no renewal on Overdrive books (because there’s always a queue), it’s impossible to read them all when they become available.

  2. The size of your member institution makes a huge difference in what is available. I have 3 library cards (yes, it’s legal where I live) and the differences are stark.

    A 3 week checkout gives me plenty of time to finish whatever I’m reading and start something that was on hold. Given that the books available are usually BP titles (I just buy indie and small pub titles) the savings really add up.

  3. In answer to some of your questions PG, Overdrive is available to indies through most if not all of the ebook distributors. Smashwords, Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, BookBaby, and eBook Partnership are ones I know for sure.

    Overdrive does not pay anyone on a per-lend basis, because they license the ebooks to individual libraries, and the libraries lend the ebooks based on the terms set by the publishers (which includes indies, since they set terms through the distributor they are working with). No library patron borrows an ebook directly from Overdrive. They borrow from the library who has licensed the book from Overdrive via the public interface Overdrive set up for the individual library. Unfortunately, due to library budgets, when they use a model that pays on a per-lend basis, they have to severely restrict the number of borrows that patrons are allowed, and or severely restrict the number of titles they make available. It’s kind of a catch-22, since the library can’t just add more money to the pool like Amazon does.

    Regarding the library administrator, it’s not so much a question of ease for why libraries go through Overdrive and other ebook vendors, it’s economic. The infrastructure outlay for a library to be able to work directly with indie authors is far beyond the capabilities of nearly every public library system, so they simply can’t. They would need to hire specialized staff, servers, software, the whole nine yards. I don’t know that Overdrive has released any stats about percentages of self-published vs. traditionally published licensing from libraries, but I personally know a lot of librarians who are excited that it is finally easier to get indie ebooks through Overdrive, because they want to purchase what their patrons want to read.

    Also, Overdrive is not very well designed to drive sales to anyone, since their sales platform is limited to the library staff of the libraries that use their platform. They do help library staff learn how to find what they are looking for, but for the most part the library staff are expected to track what they want to purchase in other ways, and use Overdrive once they know what they want. That is how most libraries work anyway, and a lot of librarians use sites like Amazon to figure out what people are interested in, and then go to their vendor of choice to purchase the book or license the ebook.

    I agree that it wouldn’t make sense for Author Earnings to include library borrows in their stats, but it would be interesting to see information on library licensing. Library lending hasn’t ever been a large sales channel for anyone, except for audiobooks when libraries were about the only places that could afford them ($80 for one 30 CD book, I’m looking at you), they are more a visibility and outreach platform, another way to increase exposure. The limited nature of library ebook lending definitely encourages people to purchase a book they want to read again, or the other books by a new author they like if they don’t want to wait for the rest of them to be available. I know this is pretty long, but hopefully it’s helpful to answer some questions.

    • Absolutely right. Author Earnings is about, um, “earnings”, and there aren’t any for authors, other than the one license sales.

      Now I’m fine with treating libraries as marketing tools for my books, but direct earnings via Overdrive are just not available.

    • Thanks for the detailed explanation, A.

  4. I see no advantage to making books available via Overdrive. One sale, many reads, no income.

    Maybe as a loss-leader for the first book in the series, but otherwise, no.

    There is something about the reach of ebooks. I live in south-central PA, and through my library, I can access the Philly Free Library’s collection of ebooks. But I have so much to read now, and if I want a book, I can also ask for it via ILL, that I’ve rarely used it.

    • I dunno, Bill. I read my first, second, and third Stuart Woods’s book from those I borrowed from the local library. Somewhere I fell into buying his books. Had a raft of ’em in hardback. Speaking only for myself, having his books in the library turned a profit for Stuart in my case. (Got me to correspond with him, too. From that correspondence, I learned a bit worth knowing about prologues.)

      You are right for you, of course, but wrong for me. What does that say about the intersection set of library-book borrowers and book buyers? It says it is not null. Is it enough to tip the cost/benefit analysis to the right? Dunno.

      • There is one marketing advantage to library ebook distribution: whereas Amazon’s catalog lists some 4m books and even KU lists over a million, libraries can’t afford to carry more than a few thousand titles.

        That results in much higher visibility among that library’s customer pool which skews heavily towards avid readers.

        If one thinks of it as a form of long-term advertising it may turn out to be a net positive over the long haul.

  5. As I recall, Joe Konrath talked about forming an alternative to Overdrive to get indie books to libraries. What happened with that?

  6. Hoopla has a lot more ebooks to lend than they used to have. I think they are dealing with Open Road Media a bunch, and Open Road seems to have signed up a lot of smaller presses.

    They have a bunch of old Lillian de la Torre historical true crime books! Yay!

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