Quick, name a massive ecommerce company with an outsized share of the ebook market across the globe.
If you didn’t come up with “Amazon,” I don’t know why the rock you’re living under doesn’t have wi-fi. Chances are, however, that you can’t name the one company with the second-largest share of the ebook market. Here’s why surfacing that company is tougher than it looks, and why that company might be the Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten.
First, let’s discuss the oft-overlooked data point that makes all the difference when determining how many ebooks are being consumed: Digital distribution to libraries. The two ebook-tracking watchdogs used by most as a benchmark for industry statistics — Nielsen BookScan and Bookstat (formerly known as Author Earnings) — both focus on units sold. As a result, they don’t take digital libraries seriously. Rakuten OverDrive, a digital management service for publishers, libraries and schools, isn’t represented in the latest Author Earnings numbers on the download numbers for Amazon, Apple iBooks, or the Barnes & Noble Nook, which stand at 406 million, 44 million, and 19.4 million, respectively. OverDrive’s numbers? 225 million total digital downloads, representing 155 million ebooks and 68 million audiobooks. Granted, the OverDrive numbers are from 2017 and the Author Earnings report uses 2016 data, but OverDrive’s numbers are still above all but Amazon by a wide margin. Nielson, meanwhile, counts a book sold to a library as a single sale — no matter how many downloads it goes on to earn.
Mark Williams of industry watchdog The New Publishing Standard debuted this insight in a January post. “Other digital libraries also reported downloads in the millions,” he notes in the article. “Hoopla, for example, saw over six million downloads in 2016, while Odilo reported ‘tremendous growth.’ […] Yet the Author Earnings Report completely ignores them.
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When I reached out to Williams for a comment, he shared a dour view of the book industry’s sparse data and its library-book-sized blind spot: “By conveniently ignoring OverDrive’s 225 million digital downloads while including estimated values for Kindle Unlimited subscription downloads, we are given not only a distorted picture of the units and value of the digital market, but more importantly a very distorted view of the wider level of engagement with digital books. Close to a quarter billion ebook and audiobook downloads, all of which are bringing in revenue for authors and publishers even if the readers are not paying directly, are shunted aside,” he told me.
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“As more and more readers understand that the ebooks they buy are actual just licences to read, and that they never ‘own’ the ebooks they supposedly are buying,” he says, “so more will ask what advantage there is in buying from a retailer rather than getting the exact same product for ‘free’ from a library.”
Link to the rest at Forbes