The prevailing mythology around tech is that the giant internet companies will dominate globally, just as they do nationally. They are borderless and all powerful. Facebook has 1.44 billion monthly active users, YouTube 1 billion unique users. So what happened with e-books? Five years ago pundits were talking about how Amazon, Apple, Google and Kobo would roll out globally to meet the worldwide demand for e-books: an eco-system built largely in America for a global audience. But something got lost in translation. Like the print-book market, the global e-book market has become complex—pulled in different directions by local nuances.
The Global E-book Report 2015, compiled by Ruediger Wischenbart, shows just how different each market can be and how this should alter how we think about this transformation. While both the US and UK have seen robust e-book growth for a numbers of years, leading to digital as a proportion of overall trade sales at about 30%; in mature book markets in non-English speaking countries the rate of progress has been much slower, and in some cases non-existent. As the report notes, in these non-English speaking countries (including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden), the market share of e-books within the trade segment of the book market is below 10%, ranging from as little as 1 or 2%, to 4.3% in Germany. More alarmingly, even at such low levels of penetration, the report adds that growth is showing signs of flattening out.
However, the non-arrival of a robust digital segment is a double-edged sword. First, without the fillip of digital growth, these markets have not been as sheltered from the global recesssion as other sectors. As the report, suggests in much of continental Europe, for the last several years, book markets have seen sales decline. Some countries, with relatively robust overall economies, like Germany or France, saw a modest, yet nevertheless steady decline in book sales. In others, like Spain, or Italy (or Greece, where no reliable data are available), the crisis impacted on the book trade with full force. In Sweden, the report also notes, that a mix of highly specific local factors brought about the sharpest decline in decades.
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Publishers have largely been spared, but the report found that all across Europe the pressure to consolidate has mounted significantly in recent years, resulting in a widening list of mergers and acquisitions among trade publishers. The report suggests that the impact of digital can hit even before it makes a material difference to sales, particularly with the arrival of those global companies such as Amazon, or Apple, prompting a period of re-adjustment by the incumbent players.
The report also found that though digital penetration across trade books may be still small in these non-English speaking markets, but there were pockets of excitement. The report states, that “anecdotal evidence has it that in the e-book top segments, like blockbuster fiction or romance, e-books can account for 30 to 40% of sales, or even more – and so in some specific cases even in countries with a particularly low presence of ebooks, such as France.”
Link to the rest at Futurebook
It is common for those in an industry being disrupted by a more efficient and lower-cost technology to look for signs that the changes will not be as complete or destructive as feared. After all, the classic disruption pattern is for the new entrants to start by selling to underserved and less-profitable customers of the legacy industry. Government intervention in the form of price-fixing or taxes can impact the way the disruption occurs.
However, PG says it is inherently so much more efficient to create, copy, distribute and sell ebooks than it is to deal with cases of dead trees that bits will beat atoms in the book world just as they have everywhere else. How much growth is there in the print circulation of newspapers these days?
PG has read newspapers for approximately forever and two physical newspapers still land on the driveway at Casa PG every morning. However, it’s more of a habit PG has developed than anything else and those papers are read less and less frequently with each passing month. Someday in the not-too-distant future, PG will stop paying for dead trees on the driveway.
The important ebook enabling technologies for most of the world will be internet access and smartphones. Not a lot of people will purchase smartphones to read ebooks, but, once they have smartphones, ebook purchasing or borrowing or pirating is a low-cost or free additional value the smartphone delivers.
PG hasn’t seen any indication that smartphone sales are slowing down.