By Ernesto Spinak
The recent report ‘Global eBook: a report on market trends and developments, 2016’1, that we began to analyze in previous posts2,3 provides an overview of the global development of the ebook market after a decade of uninterrupted growth and decrease in the last three years, at least from traditional publishers. (Note: all figures mentioned in this post, unless indicated by a reference, come from ‘Global eBook’). Due to the length of the report, this post was published in three parts.
The restructuring of the book market in its high complexity and therefore, the ebooks price, is determined by contradictory (and old) strategies in Europe to attribute prices, piracy, and legal battles in the US. In Europe, sales prices are set by publishers, which is why prices were kept artificially stable. In countries where fixed prices are determined by law, dealers have only a 5%margin to vary above or below, and the degree of rigidity varies among European countries. eBooks prices are unnecessarily casted by a scheme established by the publishing world of the “paper era”.
eBooks are becoming less integrated to this publishing model. As long as Amazon achieves greater market share through self-publishing services, with different segments that focus on different niche audiences, different pricing strategies that come out for different sales channels are being modeled. Currently, only Amazon has an umbrella that covers the wide range of books including the entire range of prices starting with values as low as 3 to 5 euros, which makes them of mass consumption. In Germany, more than half the ebooks are sold by major online booksellers for prices lower than 5 euros, and this is the segment where most self-published books are found, which are selected by Amazon Bookwire and other bookselling chains that use them for special promotions such as “selection of the month”.
To what extent piracy affects ebooks it is not know; the dimension that includes the pirate market is not known (or not revealed). Piracy can be understood as a parallel market that matures along with all the digital consumer market. An analysis on five major European pirate websites point out that it is a rapidly developing business. These sites do not deliver the books from their servers, but offer links to external servers where books are housed; the pirate websites only work as “yellow pages”. The traffic to these websites is massive; some of them recorded more than a million visits per month, and are often among the 100 to 400 most visited websites in their own countries. Each major ebooks market, for each language, is aimed by a few pirates focused on major cultural audiences, from fiction to academic and research papers in Science, Technology and Medicine (STM), as the known example of the SciHub website.
As we saw in Part II of this series of posts2, in recent years a parallel publishing market has developed offering the entire value chain, including editing services to authors publishing their own books (self- publishing); these authors are called ‘indies’ (independent authors).
In 2013, in the US indies have managed to publish more bestsellers than any other individual publisher. The total US market for self-published books is estimated at approximately US$ 180 million, i.e. 11% of the total value of the ebooks market in the country, with a total of nearly 459,000 titles published in that year (2013).
The main self-publishing software platform – Smashword – was used for editing more than 276,000 titles by more than 25,000 individual authors, followed by services of CreateSpace by Amazon with other 200,000 exclusive titles to the Kindle store. The same scenario is repeated in the UK, where 12% of the titles produced this year were self-published. Similarly, in Germany, the participation of Amazon in the ebooks market is 64%, whose authors upload their own books on the Amazon sales platforms, followed by Kobo, Beam and Google platforms.
This transformation and growth of the self-publishing market has led to consider that self-publishing may become mainstream, and the perception of publishers is that the main motivation in the fiction area is not the authors’ economic greed, but the promotion of self-esteem. In the midst of this debate, neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble reveal detailed information on sales. Obviously, this is a segment of the publishing industry in the last few years that has dramatically changed the sector’s behavior models and value chains.
In 2014, subscription models for readers offering “flat rates” strongly emerged, which lights another controversy on the debate about publication for digital consumption.
Stand out in this movement the emergence of new companies with venture capital (‘start-ups’) or the transformation of old publishers such as Scribd editorial, which was rebuilt as a platform which provides over 80 million reads per month giving access to over one million titles from 900 publishers, acting as a global hub that covers several countries. This company provides access and reading to up to 4 books for US$ 8.99 per month. The debate is accelerated with the launch of Kindle Unlimited by Amazon, starting in the US, and immediately extending to the UK and Germany.
This change on consumers’ model in general, from the sale of products to use by subscription was analyzed by ‘The Economist’ in 20134, which reads:
“In the 21st century, changing consumption habits are changing the global business landscape, perhaps forever. There is a massive shift underway in the way we—as both consumers and businesses—are looking to consume goods and services. In particular, we now value the convenience and flexibility of subscribing to services rather than buying products outright”.
How the ebooks market will be affected, however, it is too early to know because the crucial question that no one can answer yet is whether the volume of ebooks subscribing will end redesigning the publishing industry or not, and to what extent. How many authors and editors will submit to this trend, how quickly they will and finally, if readers will pay for such services, are questions for which no one yet knows the answer.
The yellow pages
The report we spoke about concludes with an extensive appendix, where in 30 pages are registered hundreds of regional or global reach institutions dedicated to: (a) edition of ebooks; (b) organizations that add third-party contents, distribute and provide support services to electronic publishing; (c) educational organizations that publish ebooks (many of them in open access); and (d) subscription services for online reading platforms.
Electronic publishing of educational organizations
The digital publishing educational books have been among the programs of the ministries of education of many governments of developing countries, with different results. On the one hand, manifest resistance of publishing the free distribution of content, but there is also resistance of teachers corporations to use them in the classroom. Despite the problems, it is also possible to show successes, where we will take as examples only two countries among many: Brazil and India.
In Brazil, among several initiatives we mention the ‘Nuvem de Livros’ program in which 270 publishers offer more than 15,000 books to nearly 3 million subscribers; the CAPES program for higher education; ‘Minha Biblioteca’ for information on STM used by 250 universities; and also SciELO Books.
In India, motivated by an intensive literacy project, which was invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, from the very beginning electronic publishing was adopted for education at all levels, starting from primary school. Sixty percent of everything that is published in India (paper and digital) has educational content. However, there are problems to access digital materials, because, although the penetration of mobile phones is very broad, most of the published content is in English, which is not the language of the lower social classes. Moreover, the ‘National Council of Educational Resources and Training’ offers in downloadable PDF format all the textbooks required for primary and secondary education. Another element to highlight in India is that the publication under Creative Commons attribution licenses is gaining ground in all areas of knowledge.
eBooks won their space in several market segments, where the genre fiction is the most successful, scientific and educational publication to a lesser extent, but with great potential, and some genres resisted better in the printed paper world. Large and medium-sized publishers are giving special emphasis to the new reading formats on screens and, very recently, a market boom has emerged from self-published books, which require online platforms for editing, publishing and distribution.
Newer developments are being boosted by large providers that occupy the entire production chain, such as Amazon and the Tolino alliance in Europe. In the Asian market, especially in China, reading devices not only became a popular pastime, especially among younger people, but reading habits are changing into smartphones. It is here where the competition begins, among the companies with interests in communications technologies that have never been in the publication market. The battle is fought not only in the area of contents, but also regarding the devices, which integrate, besides reading, video games, movies and social networking.
The new scenario facing traditional publishers is full of dangers and opportunities, from the creation of new formats until the reformulation of distribution channels. The investment required to meet the challenges presents risks to smaller actors, since large investment corporations can manage them more easily. New opportunities open up for new enterprises (‘start-ups’) and even though, to Internet giants that have no fundamental interest in content creation, but want to take larger portions on users’ communications and social interaction. Consequently, it should not be a surprise the fact that publishers raise barriers and debate, in the law field, the jurisdiction of laws and copyright laws, to defend what has been its playing field forever.
This new scenario has two important opportunities for the educational environment and personal or non-profit initiatives. The development of online platforms that integrate the entire chain of editorial production of books allow individuals or institutions to produce books and other documents at very low cost, and with no need of complex hardware/software infrastructure.
Just as years ago, creating websites or blogs was a task reserved for specialists in information technology, international consultants and advanced training in universities, today anyone can intuitively build and maintain their Facebook timeline or blog using WordPress or Joomla, without costs and with minimal know-how. Consequently, it could be possible for anyone interested to publish and distribute their books without the publishers’ intervention.
Educational institutions have, likewise, the opportunity to create all the material for educational support and online texts under Creative Commons licenses, without depending on large publishers. It is also an opportunity for the emergence of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to provide advisory services and training in the use of integrated platforms for editing ebooks and related materials.
1. WISCHENBART, R., et al. Global eBook: a report on market trends an developments. Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting (RWCC). 2016. Available from: http://www.global-ebook.com/
2. SPINAK, E. eBooks – global market and trends – Part I: Print and digital publication in the global context. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 16 July 2016]. Available from: http://blog.scielo.org/en/2016/06/22/ebooks-global-market-and-trends-part-i-print-and-digital-publication-in-the-global-context/
3. SPINAK, E. eBooks – global market and trends – Part II: The publication of printed and digital books in the world context. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 16 July 2016]. Available from: http://blog.scielo.org/en/2016/07/13/ebooks-global-market-and-trends-part-ii-the-publication-of-printed-and-digital-books-in-the-world-context/
4. TZUO, T. New rules of the road for the Subscription Economy. The Economist. 2013. [viewed 15 July 2016] Available from: http://www.economistgroup.com/marketingunbound/consumers/zuora-rules-of-the-road-for-the-subscription-econome/
SPINAK, E. eBooks – global market and trends – Part I: Print and digital publication in the global context. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 16 July 2016]. Available from: http://blog.scielo.org/en/2016/06/22/ebooks-global-market-and-trends-part-i-print-and-digital-publication-in-the-global-context/
SPINAK, E. eBooks – global market and trends – Part II: The publication of printed and digital books in the world context. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 16 July 2016]. Available from: http://blog.scielo.org/en/2016/07/13/ebooks-global-market-and-trends-part-ii-the-publication-of-printed-and-digital-books-in-the-world-context/
TZUO, T. New rules of the road for the Subscription Economy. The Economist. 2013. [viewed 15 July 2016] Available from: http://www.economistgroup.com/marketingunbound/consumers/zuora-rules-of-the-road-for-the-subscription-econome/
WISCHENBART, R., et al. Global eBook: a report on market trends an developments. Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting (RWCC). 2016. Available from: http://www.global-ebook.com/
CAPES – <http://www.capes.gov.br/>
CreateSpace – <http://www.createspace.com/>
Minha Biblioteca – <http://www.minhabiblioteca.com.br/>
Nuvem de Livros – <http://www.nuvemdelivros.com.br/>
SciELO Books – <http://books.scielo.org/>
SciHub – <http://sci-hub.cc/>
Scribd – <http://es.scribd.com/>
Smashwords: your ebook, your way – <http://www.smashwords.com/>
Collaborator on the SciELO program, a Systems Engineer with a Bachelor’s degree in Library Science, and a Diploma of Advanced Studies from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain) and a Master’s in “Sociedad de la Información” (Information Society) from the same university. Currently has a consulting company that provides services in information projects to 14 government institutions and universities in Uruguay.
Translated from the original in Spanish by Lilian Nassi-Calò.
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