Why Japan’s Rakuten Is A Hidden Contender In The Ebook Market

From Forbes:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

“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

6 thoughts on “Why Japan’s Rakuten Is A Hidden Contender In The Ebook Market”

  1. “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.”

    Amazon is a lot easier to use than the library sites I’ve tried, though admittedly I haven’t looked recently. Besides, if you have Prime, the books are essentially free.

  2. (raise hand) Member of the demographic seduced by the public library and Rakutan’s product, Overdrive.

    My library system has a recriprocal membership relationship with two other regional libraries, so I have three cards and for the hot books can get on three wait lists.

    In the meantime, Overdrive for one of the systems allows me to suggest books to purchase. I’ve suggested 114 books so far in both audio and ebook format, and many have been purchased. I’m automatically first in line to check those out when the library acquires them.

    Ebooks are available to Overdrive in .epub, .mobi, and Adobe’s stupid special .pdf format. .epub can be read in the Overdrive app; .mobi and Adobe’s stupid special .pdf format require creating additional accounts with Amazon and Adobe. So the initial learning curve for new users could definitely be improved; I am still coaching family members.

    Once you get your wish list and holds placed up and running in rotation wait times become less of an issue.

    As a courtesy to my library, if a book in the Adobe stupid special .pdf format is mis-described or poorly formatted I let my library know right away so they can return it.

    I’ve saved a lot of money.

  3. As a library trustee, I would love to see Overdrive’s stranglehold on library distribution of ebooks broken. There are alternatives, but for the time being, Overdrive is so much better, they have the market.

    I don’t like Overdrive for several reasons. The user interface has improved, but it is still confusing, especially to less computer literate users who stand to benefit considerably from library access to ebooks.

    Second, I suspect that ebooks are outrageously expensive to libraries. I have not asked for an audit because the audit itself would be expensive, but I have a strong suspicion that with all the advantages of ebooks (no expensive human touch in the lend, no warehouse space, no fines accounting, user convenience) I still have a strong suspicion that lending a paper book is cheaper. Overdrive and traditional publishers appear to make more than their fair share of money on libraries.

    This becomes serious because the demand for ebooks continues to rise and the labor costs for paper are also rising. I would love to divert some of the costs of paper to more human to human support, but it is not economically feasible. A smile and a pleasant word at the checkout counter is wonderful, but a helpful discussion of what to read next is worth far more, IMHO. Even more significant, the guy loading and driving the truck from warehouse to branch could be out on the branch floor helping fellow readers instead of sweating in the back. I like to pay humans for being human rather than for being inefficient robots.

    The potential benefits from more ebook circulation are tantalizing, but they just don’t seem to materialize. But our patrons want more ebooks.

    Frustration reigns.

  4. i loathe overdrive

    they are like trad pubs
    rake in the money
    dont care about authors; greedy middlemen
    the day authors form syndicates and bypass overdrive and go direct to libs, will be a good day

    i hope democritus asks what od is charging his lib and for how many copies of books and for how long is the contract and is the charge from overdrive related to bestsellerdom, and if so, which list

  5. I just replaced my old Kindle that was getting wonky with a high-end Kobo, and I love it. The fact that I can easily check out books from the library is only one of the things I love about it. One of the others is that, unlike with Kindle, when it goes into sleep mode, it shows the cover of the book I’m reading. Why Amazon hasn’t implemented that feature despite all the requests, I don’t understand. Oh, and I didn’t have to pay extra to avoid seeing ads like I did with my Kindle. And from what I’ve seen of it, I like Kobo’s online store better. Less cluttered with ads, and when I search for my own book by its (unusual) title, it’s actually the first thing that comes up, rather than sixth or seventh down the list after a bunch of other books that have very different titles.

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