Amazon's dominance 'damages' progress

Amazon's dominance 'damages' progress

Amazon's position in the market is damaging progress in the book trade, according to the president of the Booksellers Association, Tim Walker.

Speaking on a panel about publishing and technology at the Nielsen BookInsights conference yesterday (25th March), Walker said that Amazon's dominance of the e-book market was having a negative impact on bookselling.

"I do a have a concern that Amazon's dominance is causing problems", he said. "We estimate Kindle has a 95% market share of e-book sales in the UK and this is having a damaging effect… Consider the struggles of Barnes & Noble and the Nook platform, the problems of the established Txtr in Germany, and the decision here of Tesco to pull out of Blinkbox Books."

Walker also spoke of concerns about free library e-lending, which he said "has to be done right, or it will do harm to the book trade".

However, he said that publishing on the whole "embraced" new technology. "I think publishing can come in for quite a bit of stick but we've done a lot to embrace technology."

Panelists discussed where the industry fell on the Gartner Emerging Technologies curve, which follows the general trend of new innovations being hyped up before consumers are left disappointed, before finally the technology becomes useful and accepted.

Michael Bhaskar, co-founder and publishing director at Canelo, said: "A lot of people think e-book technology is now in the trough of disappointment, but I disagree. Looking at the data here today we've seen that they are in an area of real productivity."

At the conference, Nielsen released data showing that online spending on books had overtaken in-store spending for the first time. E-books now account for 30% of book units purchased in the UK, and the sales of print and e-books together in 2014 stood at £2.2bn, up from 4% the previous year.

Jonathan Nowell, president of Nielsen Book, referred to figures in the US which monitored combined sales of three US authors. Between 2006 and 2010, the authors sold 42m print books, while between 2010 and 2014 they sold 38m books. However, e-book sales for 2010-2014 made up the difference several times over, with 29m e-books sold.

Other sessions during the day looked at the power of word of mouth. Steve Thomson, m.d. of the Keller Fay Group, revealed that word of mouth drives 13% of consumer sales. However, 90% of word of mouth conversations happen offline.

Gavin McLauchlan, consultant at Nielsen Media Services said publishers did not put enough money into advertising. "Only 0.67% of book revenue is put back into advertising," he said. "It is very low, even compared with the fast moving consumer goods category."

Douglas McCabe, a senior analyst at Enders Analysis, spoke about where books fitted into the wider entertainment market, while Hazel Kenyon, head of publisher account management at Nielsen Book Research, spoke about the shape of the children's market. She said that while the very top and the long tail of the children's market was in growth, sales of mid-list titles were shrinking. Kenyon said that purchases on the high street and through supermarkets were more important than online sales for children's books, while libraries remain key places for discovery.