At DBW: 'What sells in print': eBooks' impact

At DBW: 'What sells in print': eBooks' impact


Can ebooks steamroll print?

Not so fast, it seems we're hearing from several directions.

Today, our colleagues Tom Tivnan and Felicity Wood at The Bookseller are writing Print and digital help the book market in 2014. Here, from that story is an "e" and "p" -- ebooks and print -- breakdown for the Big Five's 2014 sales.

And we read:

Last year the book trade “rekindled its love affair with the physical book”, Pan Macmillan’s m.d Anthony Forbes Watson has told The Bookseller. “Previous years have all been about growing e-book sales, but in 2014, in a market where e-book sales were plateauing, suddenly it was all about forward to the past, not back to the future,“ he added.

“Publishers once again discovered and focused on growing print sales. We’ve grown our physical book market last year by almost 10% and the number one focus for us across the whole year was our physical bookshelf. We now have three hardback editions of Jessie Burton’s bestseller The Minituarist [Picador] and we are really thrilled to have seen a huge surge in confidence from Waterstones as a bookseller,” Forbes Watson continued.

UK market: 'Overall, e-books represented 32.7% of 2014’s entire market in volume terms,' write Wood and Tivnan. That's up from 28.6% in 2013, 

And while the idea of the growth rate of ebooks' share of the market slowing is common now -- as early-years adoption rates of the technology predictably and naturally ease -- some new insights tend to give us a more nuanced look at the "print vs. ebook battle." Eyeing a win or a lose may have a lot to do with the beholder's sector of the market.

In her report for The Bookseller today, our colleague Gayle Feldman touches on the presentation made Thursday at Digital Book World (#DBW15) in New York by Nielsen's Jonathan Nowell on The Changing Mix of What Sells in Print: How eBooks Have Changed the Print Book Marketplace.

No slouch Nowell, look how carefully he has worded that preso title -- not even the prosaic "are ebooks cannibalising print?" but phrasings only relative to "change" and "mix" in the marketplace.

As she tells us:

Nowell really caught everyone’s attention by aggregating the sales of three favourite (unnamed) fiction authors, looking at what happened in the pre and post e-book era to their sales overall.

From 2008-10, 27 million print copies were sold; from 2012-14, 23 million.

However, during that same 2012-14 period, in addition to print, 28 million e-book units were sold, bringing those three authors’ total sales to 51 million copies, an astonishing growth.

Here is what Nowell was describing, in a slide from his presentation.

Nowell's unmistakable point in this exercise is that in fiction today, we might expect to see fewer print copies sold, in general, in fiction. But we might also expect to see a possibly commensurate or even larger number of sales of the same fiction in digital formats.

It should be noted that the cases Nowell aggregated without titles or author names to illustrate the trend he sees here are understood to be strong sellers, "mainstays," as the slide's title has it and as he explained it on the stage at DBW.

But one of the key messages he'd come to offer is that it's too facile to talk about "all print" or "all ebooks" or "the whole market" seeing one effect or another. 

The big number that would catch the audience's attention not long after Nowell gave his report came from iBooks chief Keith Moerer, who told Publisher's Lunch's Michael Cader that since the iOS 8 release in September, the iBooks Store is gaining an average 1 million customers per week.

That's a lot of customers. That's a lot of ebooks.

But as Feldman notes:

Despite dire prognostications made in years past (many, indeed, at DBW), Nowell asserted that the hardback “has held up remarkably well.”

Traditionally a place of occasional print-is-dead incantations, DBW found it self confronted with a less simplistic idea of how  p- and e- may coexist in the marketplace.

'The whopping children's gain'

We'd seen and reported on some of Nowell's workup for the #LaunchKids programme that opened the DBW week of conference events.

There, we'd hear him say that 21 percent of children's books purchased in the US are ebooks.

We'd also heard him say that Nielsen sees children's books commanding 34 percent of the UK print book market; 37 percent of the US print book market; and 18 percent of China's print book market. Clearly, if you're in children's print, you hardly are thinking about ebooks cannibalising your inventory.

There was also that bit of a bombshell announcement that 80 percent of YA is being bought by adults -- for themselves. We'd known there was a trend in that direction, sure, but 80 percent is the kind of figure that leaves you wondering how grownup are the grownups anymore.

As Feldman reports, there is some rationale here, as derived from Nowell's Thursday presentation:

In 2014, juvenile reported the highest sales since records began:

  • Up 62% over 2004;
  • Up 8% over 2009;
  •  And up 12% over 2013, to a total of 177 million units...

Print is doing so well in this segment because at present, e-books only account for 20% of total juvenile sales.

Now, we were getting the bigger picture.

Several insights from Nielsen, ups and downs

There are categories in which Nowell can identify print growth -- not decline, growth -- since the advent of ebooks.

For example, in a slide called "Highest post-ebook print growth categories," he shows us that religion print books and Bibles have moved from a 4-percent growth rate in 2004 to a massive 53-percent growth rate in 2015.

By contrast but still growing:

Juvenile nonfiction print was moving up at a 44-percent clip in 2004. After ebooks, in 2014, it was growing, but at a 28-percent rate.

Juvenile fiction print had seen 49-percent growth in print in 2004, but in 2014 saw 8-percent growth in print.

Performing arts print books growth was 5 percent in 2004, now a healthier 12-percent growth in print in 2014.

And religion print books, including Bibles, had been growing at a rate of 9 percent in 2004. After the entry of ebooks into the picture, in 2014, had everything gone to the digital dogs? By no means: religion print books in print were seeing a massive 53-percent growth in 2014.

Don't tell me that print doesn't have a prayer.

More ups, more downs

As Feldman writes, from Nowel's report:

In the third quarter of 2014 (the most recent statistics available), adult fiction accounted for 65% of e-book sales.

And she also picks up on some of the more interesting material Nowell brought us in terms of nonfiction and its encounter with ebooks:

In nonfiction, the decline in print sales predates the e-book.

The biggest declines since 2007 have not surprisingly been in travel (-50%) and reference (-37%).

On the other hand, religion is up 43%, and cookery 11%. 

Once upon a time, pundits thought that cookery would go the way of travel, but that has not happened, thanks mainly, Nowell said, to “personality” books.

The fiction "eBooks by Categor"y slide makes the point that "Romance started off as highest in the [ebooks] format nad has just gotten bigger over the years." 

Feldman writes:

Within e-book fiction, romance now comprises 24% of all units sold.  In other words, the post-ebook decline in print is dominated by fiction.

But what of other elements of the market and response to ebooks? 

Has it all gone as you had thought it would?

Nowell ended by commending London's Charing Cross Foyles (which someone in the New York audience was able to correctly identify, by the way, from images on the screen -- iconic already). He noted that what Foyles has called "the bookstore of the future" is designed to inspire. Certainly true.

But does that imply that digital books aren't designed to inspire or capable of doing so?

Are there surprises for you in the way Nielsen describes the "mix" and "change" in the marketplace, now that ebooks are becoming a more mature part of the industry's output?

If print were to stage the fabled "comeback" that some like to predict, where do you see it happening? 

And what would you say are the biggest effects of ebooks on the overall market -- not as cannibalisation, we know that's an overstatement, but in terms of shifting sales points?

If you're selling books, yourself, can you see correlations between print and ditigal sales? Can you see one lifting the others in some circumstances? Have there been changes over time in what your readers and customers are looking for?

Images from Jonathan Nowell's DBW presentation are from Nielsen BookScan and PubTrack data

Main image - Shutterstock: Dmitry Kalinovsky

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