Are ebooks taking off?

Martin Taylor at eReport reports this amazing statistic (See US stats show 9% ebook share, grim news for print):

The latest US book industry sales figures from the Association of American Publishers show ebooks are now tracking at 9% of domestic trade book revenue for the 8-month period January to August 2010.

To put this in context I have plotted the ebook share of  total consumer book sales in the US for the last years.

This certainly looks like ebook sales, and presumable sales of ebook readers and similar devices, is taking off in the US.  As Martin points out Amazon’s Jeff Bezos claims that when both printed and e-book formats are available their  sales are about 35% ebooks!

Mind you, I think this sudden increase may be partly caused by the more recent  availability of improved ebook readers, devices like the iPad, and on-line ebook stores. If so, we might expect the increasing trend to slow and some sort of equilibrium reached in the next few years between sales of ebooks and printed books.

Unfortunately in New Zealand we are well behind. Ebook readers, and the iPad, have only become available this year. So far there are just four ebook readers on the local market (the Kobo and two Sony models), plus the Kindle from Amazon. And try to find them in the local shops!

On the other hand the price of the Kobo has dropped $50 recently suggesting that we will soon see more competition, and lower prices, in the New Zealand market, as overseas.

Footnote: I was interested to see that science writer Carl Zimmer is experimenting by releasing his most recent book purely as an ebook. (see Brain Cuttings). He found it quick to produce and it’s certainly quicker for the reader to obtain.

If this catches on with authors I am going to have to splash out and get my own ebook reader.
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12 responses to “Are ebooks taking off?

  1. I bought a Kobo a couple of months ago for my trip around Oz. My wife and I read a couple of books each on it and there are a lot of advantages. Definitely easier to read than an emitting screen. The battery lasts a long time too.

    But I’ve gone back to physical books on my arrival home because I have a stack that I’m working through and a friend lent me a couple. I have to say I like a physical book better. You get to put them on your shelves afterwards which makes you look smarter than you are. You can easily flip back 50 pages and find that quote you know was 3/4 of the way down on a left hand page.

    But, if you are travelling and you want to take ten books with you you’re much better off with a Kobo. Also, there are books that everyone should read in at some stage in their life which cost $30 in book form but are available free electronically because they’re long out of copyright. The Kobo comes preloaded with 100 classics and for that alone I’d say it’s worth the $250.

    (Also, I’m an open source freak and the Kobo runs a stripped down version of Linux. I’ve been able to hack into it and have the ability to fix/reformat books at my leisure. The ePub format — which Kobo uses — is more compatible than others too.)


  2. Interested to hear of your experience, Damian. I am seriously considering getting an ebook reader but I suspect it won’t replace hard copies for me. And I think that is true for most people. It will certainly be an advantage for getting review copies early from overseas – publishers are often happier to send a pdf – especially before publication.

    I have looked at the Kobo but want to suss out the Sony (which reads ePub, Word doc and pdf). I suspect it has better facilities for note-taking, marking up, etc. Can’t find them locally though. In fact I rang Sony NZ yesterday and the “customer service” women couldn’t tell me where I could actually find one! So much for their service. Bit of a worry7.


  3. Interested to hear about Zimmer. I’m adopting pretty much the same approach for my next book. It will be available as an ebook in as many formats as I can manage, and for as low a price as feasible (equivalent to the royalty I’d get for a conventionally published book) to reduce the risk to a purchaser. Paper copies will be available via print-on-demand (see Amazon’s service, for instance). The marketing will be the tricky bit…

    Interestingly, the next version of my favourite writer’s tool, Scrivener, will output text direct to ePub format. InDesign will do the same for traditional page layouts.


  4. Gareth – do you know if there is a print-on-demand service in NZ yet?


  5. There used to be a bunch called Viking Press in Wellington, IIRC, but their web presence disappeared a year or two ago. I haven’t heard of any others. Looks like a gap in the market for some enterprising person…

    I’d like to make my books available by POD in major markets — USA, UK, Aus — to cut down on shipping. It would be a great shame if I had to print overseas for the NZ market…


  6. Can’t be far off.

    Last I heard at least one university library in Australia had the Espresso printer.


  7. 1minionsopinion

    I think a bigger deal should be made about the sheer number of people who don’t read any books (not just because they’re illiterate). And out of those who do read, how many could actually afford this technology? I can’t see the print format getting entirely replaced by this stuff unless it gets ridiculously cheap like calculators did, and even then there would still be millions who would never read anything.


  8. Sure 1minionsopinion getting people to read is a problem. Goes back to childhood family environment and educational inputs.

    I suspect that ebook readers will become ridiculously cheap. Just remember what happened with calculators and DVD players.

    But at the same time is suspect that the market will level off to include both print and ebooks. I am interested in the print on demand option because that really combines the two. It will enable rapid availability of hard copies of books.


  9. I just wish that a) publihers would stop gouging the customer on e-book prices b) that they would sort out the regional rights rubbish and c) make titles available in multi format and or remove drm.

    I am 50/50 ebook vs paper at the moment. Depends on price and ebook availability.


  10. Its hard to believe that any quick-copy or office supply store with a copy desk couldn’t easily serve as a print-on-demand facility these days.

    My main reason for buying ebooks would be search capability for research and quotations and I’d probably use them more often with the same computer I use for writing than with a dedicated reader. If an ebook file format prevented copy/paste I wouldn’t want it.

    A reader might be handy for backpacking or travel reading, but I prefer to do those activities without my head stuck in a book or behind a camera, without my eyes glued to a smart phone, and without music piped into my ears. I guess I’m just not a very portable person.


  11. BTW Gareth, Scrivener looks great. I wish it did windows. The Open Office Document Navigator offers some of that functionality if you figure out how to make use of it. I use quick “drafts” in WordPress like note cards, but there is no “corkboard” rearranging capability. So basically that Scrivener thing looks pretty sweet…


  12. Richard: Scrivener for Windows is in the works, scheduled for release early next year. Or you could always buy a Mac (seriously — there are Scriv users who switched OS just to use the programme).

    Scrivener has lots of strengths — but it’s really nice to be able to have everything in “one place” — research, outline, notes, structure etc. Once you’ve got used to the ability to move sections around at will, you won’t want to go back to anything else. And the full screen “no distractions” mode is well done, together with wonderful “typewriter” scrolling (the line you’re typing stays in the middle of the screen). For any piece over a few hundred words, anything requiring structure and planning, Scrivener is marvellous.


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