Estimating e-books

What is the true size of the consumer e-book market in the UK?

Last week as part of our analysis of the top titles of the year we published e-book volume sales for 2012. It was the first time we've had such data, and the numbers allowed us to take a more reasoned view of this nascent market.

Our analysis is available here on (subscribers only), with a free view of selected data here on FutureBook. The US journalist Porter Anderson has also written them up as part of his 'ether' series for Publishing Perspectives, as has the Telegraph here.

One week on, and with more data now being crunched as part of The Bookseller's 'Review of the Year', our understanding of the e-book market has been growing. Last week, based on volume sales of 43 of the top 50 titiles, we suggested the e-book market was worth about £200m, but now with publisher data added into the mix, I'm revising this closer to £250m. A number of the top trade publishers have now supplied us with their volume and value e-book sales for 2011 and 2012, allowing us to refine what we thought the average price of e-books was (across a range of publishers agency and non-agency).

Using these statistics the figure for sales of traditionally published titles (at invoiced values) looks to be closer to £220m. What we don't yet know is the impact of discounting: for non-agency publishers, for example, the price paid for e-books by the consumer may be less than the value of those sales to publishers. For example, Life of Pi, as mentioned below, has shifted 250,000 copies in e-book format since it was priced at 20p. As Canongate is the unwitting partner in this promotion, its revenue from those sales would far exceed the £50,000 consumers have paid.

Even assuming that there is little wriggle-room between what the e-tailer pays the publisher, and what the consumer pays the e-tailer, these figures do not include sales of self-published e-books, the Harry Potter titles, or those English-language titles coming into the market from overseas publishers. We'd estimate these combined to be worth a further £15m to £20m. Last year the Publishers Association put a figure on trade e-book sales of £100m at invoiced values, with average growth reported by the big publishers well ahead of 100% in 2012, that also indicates a market value of £250m or beyond.

More e-book sales data, including publishers' own 2012 sales numbers, will be published in The Bookseller on Friday.

Philip Jones is editor of The Bookseller.