'Huge, untracked shadow industry' in e-books

'Huge, untracked shadow industry' in e-books

Shrinking publisher market share in digital books has given the “illusion” of an e-book plateau, but there is a “huge, untracked shadow industry” of self-published titles growing faster, The FutureBook Conference has heard.

Speaking as part of a panel entitled ‘Who’s Afraid of the E-book Plateau? Understanding the new consumer’ Nielsen’s Jo Henry (pictured) said that digital sales had fallen by three percentage points in 2015 compared with 2014.

The statistics, taken from Nielsen’s Books and Consumer Survey, showed that 29% of all books purchased in 2015 were e-books in comparison to 31% in 2014. E-book sales have declined in most categories, Henry said, but “particularly in children’s books”, which include Young Adult titles. However, the crime/thriller, humour, personal development and diet/health titles have grown in digital, she added.

Gareth Cuddy, founder and c.e.o of Vearsa, however, argued that e-book sales were growing, but where they were written by self-published authors as opposed to traditionally published authors.

Higher prices of e-books published by traditional houses combined with a shrinking publisher market share was giving the “illusion” of an e-book plateau, Cuddy said, but in actual fact there was a “huge, untracked shadow industry” of e-books being published by indie authors which is growing “faster” than mainstream” content."

“The plateau affects mainly tier one publishers,” he said. “Other markets and non top-tier retailers have much stronger growth.”

From an analysis of the top 10,000 e-book titles sold in May 2015, Cuddy said 27% were published by the top five trade publishers at an average price of $8.22, with 73% of the other titles costing an average price of $4.58. By November 2015, however, 18% of the top 10,000 e-book titles were published by the top five trade publishers for an increased average price of $9.47, with the other 82% averaging a price of $4.57.

E-book sales were growing faster on platforms outside the top two retailers of Amazon and Apple on websites such as Scribd, Google, Chegg, Baker & Taylor, for example.

“The e-book demand remains but the playing field has shifted,” Cuddy concluded. “Growth is possible but requires the right strategy.”

Kobo’s Dave Anderson agreed that self-published titles were growing and were currently 10-15% of unit sales on the Kobo platform.
People who read a lot of books are valuable to the company, Anderson said, because it receives 50% of its sales from the top 10% of its customers, so retaining those customers is vital. As a result, the Kobo Super Points loyalty card was recently launched, which has 30,000 subscribers, he said. 

The FutureBook Conference took place at the Mermaid Theatre in London on 4th December.