Publishers enjoy surging e-book export sales

Publishers enjoy surging e-book export sales

UK publishers are reporting strengthening international e-book sales across 2013, with good growth in Scandinavia, Germany and Ireland, and promising development predicted for South-East Asia and China.

The rise counters a trend for falling or flat physical book sales in many export markets (see pp18–21). Full 2013 digital statistics for most markets are not available, yet some research indicates growing shares worldwide. Kobo said it expected 70% e-book penetration in most markets within 10 years. Citing statistics from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Book and eBook Research Data, it put e-book penetration by 2016 at 12% in Asia Pacific, 9% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 49% in North America, and 4% in Latin America.

Hachette UK saw its international e-book sales rise by a total of around 39%, said Richard Kitson, group commercial director, although he added that “in some of our international markets it is higher”. Ireland was witnessing “huge growth of 150%, like the UK was two years ago”, he said.

Oliver Wright, group sales director at HarperCollins, said the company saw double-digit e-book growth internationally overall, although rates varied “a lot by territory”, with Brazil not the “growth area we might have expected”.

Australia had “slightly lower growth” in e-books than other areas, said Kitson, with “signs that it’s starting to emulate the UK”, while Wright said Australia was “still growing from a fairly reasonable base on e-books”. Some expansion was seen in South-East Asia, but publishers viewed the territory as an area for future development. Kitson said: “Growth of ‘e’ in Asia is happening, but it’s lagging behind Europe.”

Gareth Cuddy, c.e.o. of global e-book distributor ePubDirect, predicted sizeable growth in South- East Asia, as well as in China. “I think China is going to be very exciting. That is a market with huge potential,” he said. Cuddy also said his company had seen growth of 545% in India when it came to e-books, although this was partially down to “extended reach”, with a proliferation of online retailers to partner with.

Pan Macmillan said its international e-book sales were driven by brand-name authors such as Jeffrey Archer, David Baldacci, and Ken Follett. But its international director Jonathan Atkins said: “While they are the authors who are driving our e-book sales around the world, we are seeing little or no drop off in their print sales in first format.”

HarperCollins has enjoyed surprising success in the US with its misery memoirs in e-book format—in particular for author Cathy Glass—partly down to a focus on the UK list through the Harper 360 programme in the US. However HarperCollins’ Wright said: “One of the things we haven’t seen with e-books is uptake on education.With our education business, we enjoy physical success in the Middle East and Malaysia, but e-books in education is pretty small stuff. It surprised us a lot that it hasn’t been a bit quicker.”

Jacqueline Sells, Bloomsbury’s head of international sales, said the company was seeing a particularly strong shift from “p” to “e” in institutional and library sales. “The digital shift in the trade market is slower outside of Europe, but this will obviously change in the future,” she said.

Overseas market mixed

There is no question that the recurring theme across global book markets is of contracting print sales. But looking at some of British publishing’s core export markets using Nielsen BookScan data and information collated by publishing consultant Ruediger Wischenbart, there are certainly opportunities and silver linings amid the gloom.  

As we see in more detail on pages 18–21, traditional export markets such as Australia (-4.5%),  New Zealand (-18.3%), South Africa (-13.2%) and Ireland (-7.3%) were all down year on year by volume through BookScan in 2013. However, for Australia and New Zealand that is a shallower year-on-year decline than from the monster E L James-boosted 2012; strip out James, and South Africa joins the ANZAC countries with having had shallower year on year declines.   

Outside of BookScan markets, sales data can be slow in coming and often can only be given in percentage terms. But some data is encouraging. Germany had an overall increase of 0.1% in revenue, according to trade magazine Buchreport. Yes, this is by the barest of margins, but it is the first year of positive growth following three years of decline.
In France, Livres Hebdo reports the market down just 1% by value, and though digital still only makes up 3% of the entire trade, it “had been taking off” in 2013. Meanwhile in China, trade magazine Bookdao says that while bricks-and-mortar shops averaged sales declines of 1.4%, internet retailers were up 20% in revenue on physical books, and e-book sales jumped 50%.  

India is growing through BookScan (+11.6%), while Nielsen’s Brazil panel, officially launched in 2013, shows a market that is keen on Western—particularly British and American—authors: of the top 50 books through BookScan, 34 were written by Europeans or North Americans.