“There is no flattening out yet over here in ebook sales” ..."Our country is quite unique in the diversity of its ebook landscape," says Timo Boezeman, a sales account manager in the digital division of the Dutch distributor CB Logistics.
Based in Culemborg in the central Netherlands, this 140-year-old company (formerly Centraal Boekhuis) -- operating in the Netherlands and Belgium -- produces a quarterly infographic, based on observations made in the process of handling "distribution and invoices of ebooks to the majority of ebook sellers."
CB's brightly colored infographic indicates that some 5 million ebooks had been sold by the middle of this year (cumulative, since the start in January 2010). The 1-million-ebook mark was hit, it seems, early in 2012.
As I've reported today at The Bookseller, around the middle of last year, CB could account for 3 million sales. So there's a quickening of sales apparently under way, per what CB sees in year-0ver-year total sales.
Note that the ebooks counted for CB's new quarterly infographic are for the most part publisher-produced, not self-published. There is self-publishing in the Netherlands but compared to the UK and US this is still relatively small.
“Mostly, self-publishing here is done with parties like MijnBestseller.nl or Brave New Books,” Boezeman says, referring to two author-service providers. "Those and others are using CB’s services as well."
In CB's market: More than a quarter of books are digital
Quarterly sales in 2014 seem to be giving up some numbers to loaned titles. (You can see lending represented in blue in the first and second quarter of 2014 on the graphic.) The statistics on lending represent library activity -- publishers working with CB can make their ebooks available for loans from public libraries.
In terms of ebook adoption vs. print, two features of the infographic stand out.
- One shows us the share of ebooks among total book sales rising in Q2 of this year by 18 percent over the previous quarter -- ebooks accounted in the second quarter for some 4.7 percent of all sales, leaving 95.3 percent in physical books.
- Of related interest, CB counted 41 percent of titles available in print also available in digital editions. Boezeman says that the 11-percent increase in that proportion is indeed "a bit more than we expected, but it's [part of] a steady growth we see every quarter."
More text and commentary from Boezeman follows the infographic, which has been created and supplied by CB Logistics:
Not DRM but a watermark is "the Dutch standard" for ebooks
Easily one of the most eye-catching elements of the CB Q2 infographic is a note in the center: "Only 1 out of 50 sold ebooks is protected with Adobe DRM."
In US and UK markets, of course, DRM and its usage by most traditional publishers, are among the most contentious and frequently bitter debates ongoing, frequently led by the US author Cory Doctorow.
Boezeman explains that in the Netherlands, "We had a huge conversion in January 2013, in which we offered all publishers [a chance] to convert their titles from Adobe DRM to watermark," free of charge.
Indeed, this report from The Bookseller's Joshua Farrington examines the decision by the largest Dutch publisher, De Arbeiderspers/A W Bruna, to "be sold with a watermark attached rather than any DRM system." What watermarking does, as Farrington notes, is make it possible for copies of an ebook found on the Internet to be traced to the buyer.
Evidently, the opportunity of converting to watermarking proved popular.
"After the conversion," Boezeman says, "the landscape had changed significantly to 75-percent watermark. And by now, that number is even bigger. And if you add up the ebooks with no protection at all, you see that some 98 percent of ebook titles has the more friendly-to-consumers watermark (96 percent) or no protection at all (two percent)."
More publishers, more retailers, but where is Amazon?
In the second quarter, CB reports an increase of 15 percent in retailers to 167, and an increase in publishers of 17 percent, to 212. Both in retail and in publishing, Boezeman says, “There are always new players coming and old ones stopping. In The Netherlands there’s also a relatively strong culture of new initiatives (start-ups), in the book world."
What may be most interesting to industry observers in other markets, however, is that the Dutch ebook market is developing without the presence of Amazon as a retailer so far.
Boezeman points out, the resulting diversity can actually work to possibly "inhibit the growth of digital reading," as he puts it, with "many different retailers, many different reading devices" in ecosystems including those of Apple, Kobo, and Google -- instead of the drive of a central, more nearly unifying energy toward digital adoption seen in Amazon-dominated ebook markets such as those of the US and UK.
However, Boezeman says, this already has changed for the better since the big conversion from Adobe DRM to watermarking.
And where is Amazon? A quick check reveals a message about Amazon Development Center Netherlands -- and it's hiring. A section of the text reads:
Be a part of building one of the first Amazon offices in The Netherlands. The team at the Amazon Development Center Netherlands will initially focus on the development of the Amazon Web Services platform. Like all Amazon engineers, this team will deliver the best, most scalable and efficient technologies.
The approach here, then, seems to be led not by retail but by Amazon's Web Services (AWS) operations for the moment.
"The growth of ebooks"
Overall, we see in the report coming out of CB for 2014's second quarter less evidence of the “flattening”or “plateauing”of ebook-sales growth that has been widely discussed in more mature markets.
“There is no flattening out yet over here in ebook sales,” Boezeman says.
“Print is going down for some years now, but that doesn’t seem to be (heavily) related to the growth of ebooks."
Top image - Shutterstock: Doin Oakenhelm