Ebooks – next Big Thing (but don’t tell the Australians)

Some pretty stunning ideas on ebooks from a US researcher James McQuivey. He thinks ebook sales will reach US$3 billion by 2015 (up from $966 million this year). The idea is more people will get e-reading devices, then they will buy more and more of their books digitally. (The current figure is e-reader owners buy 41% of their books digitally). At the $3 billion mark, he says, there will be a tipping point and “not only do publishers need to take digital seriously—they must make it the new default for publishing, preparing for a day in which physical book publishing is an adjunct activity that supports the digital publishing business.” Full article here.

I note that new Australian titles like the David Hicks’ book Guantanamo: My Journey and John Howard’s Lazarus Rising are now available on publication as ebooks but prices vary significantly. The Howard book you can get for $20 at Borders but it costs $33 through iBooks ($60 hardcover).

I had to laugh at Sydney Morning Herald journalist Stephen Hutcheon’s outrage at the idiosyncratically limited range of titles available as ebooks here. “The big problem with Amazon is that shopping for books – which ought to be a serendipitous experience – in fact turns out to be an exercise in frustration.” Yup, that’s what we’ve been saying for a year. “There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to why some books are available for Australian users and others aren’t.” Uh ha. As for the new iBook store, there are not enough new release titles, he says, and those that are available are expensive (when compared with US ebook prices).

Yes. We still have a long way to go. See Stephen Hutcheon’s article here.

I’ve also stumbled upon a website called Oz-E-Books which does a round-up of articles and info on ebooks in Australia.

Survey of US book buyers

A 2010 US  survey of book buying behaviour finds two thirds of avid readers (ie spend more than five hours per week reading books) are female, one third male. The percentage of avid readers increases with age ie there are more avid readers in the 45-54, 55-64 and 65+ categories than in the younger age groups. Older people also buy more books. The most favoured place to buy books is the local bookstore, closely followed by chains and online. The survey also found most people who browsed in independent bookstores did not then go on to make their purchase on-line (only 10% did this).

Very interesting is what influences the purchasing decision. Top of the list is reputation of the author, next personal recommendation, then price. Book reviews were fourth (37%), cover, art work and blurbs was next (22%) and advertising came in last at 14%.

With regard to ebooks, the survey found ereader owners buy pbooks as well as ebooks and that ereader owners’ purchasing patterns were similar to those of “avid” readers ie they buy more books than the average. The survey can be viewed here.

Slate on WSJ plus ebook sales figures

I’m no economist but interesting to see Slate.com backs up my criticism of the Wall Street Journal article (see “Ebook blamed again”) – the WSJ article has “more holes in it than Albert Hall”, they say. Also, depressingly enough, they note the publishing industry’s “rule of thumb is that nine out of 10 books will not earn back their advance”. See the Slate piece here.

Publishing news coming out of the Frankfurt Bookfair is that there are no comprehensive data on sales figures for ebooks so there is no real way to tell how ebook sales are affecting pbook sales. The difficulty in getting any reliable figures, Tim Coronel says in Publishing Perspectives, is the international nature of ebooks. So sales data would need to include figures from Kobo, Apple’s iBookstore, Google Editions and Kindle and the stats would need to be broken down by country and “then be combined with local ebook sales data in each market”. Or, he suggests, publishers could pool their information. I don’t think Tim holds out much hope for the latter.

Ebooks blamed again

Freedom sold 35,000 ebooks in 2 weeks

Some interesting comments in the Wall Street Journal about the impact of ebooks on returns for literary fiction writers. The journalist, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, says that the smaller return from ebooks for publishers (albeit compared to the US hardcover price) is making it much harder for agent’s to sell literary fiction to the big publishers, and when they do, the advances paid are much smaller.

It is possible we are starting to see a structural shift in book publishing, and it is starting in the US where ebook sales are much more advanced than in Australia. However, the article states that ebook sales are still only 8% of total book revenue. It’s projected this might rise to 20% – 25% by 2013 (and eventually over take print books).

If ebook sales are only 8%, it’s hard to see why this should be having such a drastic effect on publishers willing to publish debut fiction, or on advances generally. I was staggered to read that big New York publishers typically paid a debut fiction advance of $US50,000 to $100,000 (let’s all move to NY) but now the dreaded ebook monster has reduced that to $US1,000 to $5,000 (welcome to Ozland!).

There’s something about the WSJ article that doesn’t stack up. There are a lot of other pressures on publishers besides ebooks plus there’s no acknowledgement that ebook sales don’t necessarily mean pbook sales forgone.

One thing that was pointed out in the artice that not much has been made of so far in the whole ebook debate, is the promotion/selection of books on the ebook platforms, especially Amazon. Essentially a potential book buyer has to know what they are looking for and this overwhelmingly favours established writers. There is almost zero chance of just stumbling across a title the way we all do in our local bookstores.

Read the WSJ article here.

Australian ebooks finally?

Borders says that 2 million titles will be available through its new ebook store. They also released a new e-reader, the Kobo, undercutting the Kindle in price. As anyone who has a Kindle knows, the number of Australian titles (and you can add to this new release UK fiction) are few and far between. With the huge number of titles Borders is offering for purchase though its website in the epub format this will hopefully mean a greater range of new release Australian books available.

The Red Group (which owns Borders and Angus and Robertson) says that more than 100 local publishers, including Allen and Unwin, Pan Macmillan, and HarperCollins, have signed up. The Australian Bookseller and Publisher website reports that Scribe’s initial batch of ebooks will be available on the Borders site within the week and Text says titles by Kate Grenville, Helen Garner and Shane Maloney will also be available soon. Spinifex Press and MUP are said to have signed and Simon & Schuster would make selected Australian titles available.