Publishers are confident their digital sales will continue to increase, but at a slower rate than in the past, The Bookseller’s 2014 Digital Census has found. However, over three quarters of publishers think digital will lead to a collapse of territoriality and there continues to be concerns over the use of DRM and digital royalty rates.
The survey, from over 1,100 respondents and taken between September and October 2014, found that nearly three in five (58.5%) think digital sales will account for more than 10% of their total sales by the end of 2015, and more than three quarters (78.5%) think they will be above this threshold by the end of 2020.
But publishers’ forecasts are getting more and more conservative. In the 2012 Digital Census, nearly half (48.2%) forecasted that digital would be worth more than 50% of their sales by the end of 2020; last year it was down to 41.3%; and this year it has dropped further, to less than a third (30.7%). Publishers still think digital is going to be a huge part of their future, but they are far less bullish than they were even a couple of years ago.
When asked if digital will compromise territorial rights, the vast majority (75.6%) answered yes. "E-books will ultimately kill territoriality," said one respondent. "But not in the short term. Publishers need to prepare for this."
Asked about the hindrances to selling more digital material, the most significant appear to be customers wanting free content (37.6%) and discoverability (36.7%). Poor marketing (26.1%) and poor retailer platforms (22.9%) are other significant barriers, and it is interesting to note that a quarter (24.3%) of publishers think that consumers are largely not yet ready for digital content.
Others think the easing of growth is part of a predictable curve. “The e-book market is established now—it’s a natural stabilisation, rather than a slowdown,” says one publisher; “The novelty [of e-books] has worn off a bit,” adds another. “The market is reaching maturity,” reckons another. “It is simply market saturation—those who have converted to e-books did so long ago, and now the rate of new adopters is equal to those moving away from e-books.”
The five years of the Digital Census have revealed divisions in publishers’ attitudes to e-book royalties, and there is no sign of them closing. More than half (51.2%) think rates should be the same as for print books, but just over a third (36.6%) think they should be higher, and the rest (12.2%) lower. There is no consensus on the thorny issue of Digital Rights Management either. One in five (19.8%) publishers say they have already removed DRM from their books, and a third (33.5%) have considered doing so—but nearly half (46.7%) have not.
Last week, The Bookseller noted that only one in seven people think the industry is ready for the next stage in the digital revolution.
The full results of the FutureBook Digital Census will be available to all delegates attending the FutureBook Conference, which this year takes place on 14th November at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre. Speakers include Tom Weldon, c.e.o of Penguin Random House, Carla Buzasi, founding editor of The Huffington Post UK, and author and Hailo head of product George Berkowski, among a packed line-up.