The Publishers Association numbers show consumer ebook sales have collapsed by 17 per cent, but physical book sales are up by 8 per cent. The media took delight in Amazon bashing – “[The Kindle] was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, of Curtis Brown in the Guardian, “ but now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they?”. Is this the death of digital? Absolutely not.
Overall digital consumption is up and now represents 35 per cent of industry revenue. So, what’s happening?
Consumer ebook sales have certainly stalled and most notably in fiction. Some big trade publishers took back control of pricing on Amazon reverting to the agency model. They put up prices and, no surprise, sales slumped. This may look like self-harm, but there are other factors at play. The demand for digital product is healthy, particularly in non-fiction, educational and professional markets where content is often sold on different business models such as subscription or ‘loan’ models.
Could it be the consumer market is looking for different consumption models?
Remember the moment when the music industry first saw iTunes (a download model) stall? It was more than 50 per cent of the record business at that time and was a huge shock but it wasn’t fatal. Why? In that industry, well established subscription and social recommendation players existed like Spotify, Deezer, LastFm, Shazam. These models aren’t advanced in the book world.
Oyster closing doesn’t mean the subscription model doesn’t work, it just means its content deals were painful and the investors wouldn’t stomach it.
It’s great to see the publishing industry celebrating a growth in physical sales, but let’s not get this out of proportion. Digital in all its forms is on a steady rise and now is the time to innovate in digital business models whilst the coffers are full.
Ebookadabra – the Netflix of children’s books – has carried out research that shows young kids’ reading is in scary decline. We think this is due to kids gaming and not reading. There is a lack of digital reading offers that are delivered in a way kids will engage with. Ebookadabra is our response – it’s an immersive digital world of books, many with audio and read-along, made rewarding and gamified and offered on a subscription business model. If kids aren’t reading, we need to give them something to relate to.
Tom Grayson is Founder of Ebookadabra, a ‘Netflix of kids’ picture books’ – offering unlimited digital titles for children aged 3-7 for £2.99 per month.