eBooks – global market and trends – Part I: Print and digital publication in the global context

By Ernesto Spinak

Photo: SciELO

Photo: SciELO

In recent years, a global industry of electronic books (e-books) has emerged, with great force in the English language market and remarkable strength in the United States. The recent report ‘Global eBook: a report on market trends and developments, 20161’ provides an insight into the global level of development of the ebook market after a decade of uninterrupted growth and decrease in the last three years, at least from the traditional publishers, both in sales of physical as electronic books, in favor of global companies like Amazon or non-traditional authors publication. (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 will be published in parts.

The publication of ebooks is a natural consequence of the change of habits of billions of people on the planet who have Internet access via mobile phones and tablets anytime, anywhere in the world. According to the report we spoke about, the global penetration of social media exceeds by 31% the world’s population. Although the production of books (writing, editing, and publishing) seems to be a traditional process that resists to changes, one way or another it turns, following the spontaneous and massive public decisions. The book publishing is the second most important industry among content industries2 (the first one is TV), generating globally more than US$ 150 billion in revenue per year. In the digital transformation, the different segments of the content industry evolve very differently from each other.

The book markets around the world are shaped by different factors, from the size of the population to the level of economic development. The main consumer market of ebooks today is the United States; the second, China; followed by Germany, Japan, UK, and a number of European countries. In Latin America there are Brazil, Mexico and Argentina in positions 10, 18 and 26, respectively.

From the point of view of titles production, however, the order varies, UK coming first, with almost 3,000 new titles per year per million inhabitants, followed by Denmark, Slovenia, and Spain in the fourth place, with a production of over 1,600 new titles per million inhabitants.

In short, we can say that the ebook business globally is concentrated in a few markets where six countries represent nearly 60% of global revenues, despite recently emerging companies with significant roles in their domestic markets in Brazil, China, India and Russia.

In the universe of book editing, an increasing consolidation among the major players occurred at the highest level, being faced by the emerging economies. Among the 10 largest publishing groups three different sectors were formed, in ascending order of market size: STM (Science, Technology and Medicine), education and popular consumer literature.

Electronic books are becoming a separate group from printed books. They started to become popular in 2007 with the launch of Amazon’s reader Kindle, in three main digital competitive formats (Mobi, ePub and PDF). The digital readout moved from special devices to mobile devices, especially smartphones, across Asia and increasingly in countries outside North America and Europe.

Market trends show a gentle decline of the printed version, and a slow increase in the digital, so that the market losses of the printed market were not compensated by the greed of the digital world, at least that is what express the statistics of the predominant publishing groups in English language (Big Five), namely Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Not enough data on ebooks for markets outside the Anglo-Saxon context are available, though. The transition to digital reading was not as fast as one imagined at first, and undoubtedly it will take another 20 years to consolidate.

Ebooks do not attract all reading segments similarly. In the United States and United Kingdom market, the highest penetration is on the best-selling fiction genres (novels, fantasy, erotism), and books published by the author himself (self-published), non-fiction standing far behind.

The European market is changing through the consolidation of the major publishing groups. However, the biggest changes are being produced in the educational field. For example, Amazon has signed agreements with the Ministry of Education of France to encourage educators to use tools and platforms available at Amazon for the creation and dissemination of educational resources in open access. In the Big Five battle with Amazon for several arguments (including the unique pricing model) they lost market share in favor of Amazon, and additionally increased its earnings in the “indies” sector (independent authors) that take advantage of its market and sales power. Other initiatives are also springing up, offering platforms and consulting services to institutions and individuals for the self-digital edition of books.

Self-publishing continues to flourish, and between 2014 and 2015 almost 460,000 new titles were published, 75% of them published only on three platforms: Smashwords, CreateSpace from Amazon, and Lulu.

Likewise, while the European market, in particular the production of ebooks in France and Spain, has decreased, the market flourishes in the fiction genres and self-published titles. The same scenario presents in the emerging BRIC countries, where the market has been stable. For example, in the case of Brazil3, the market in the last 10 years is “flat” and something like 50,000 titles in Portuguese are available, produced by local publishers and between 15,000 and 20,000 self-published titles are available in electronic book stores. Although, this may change, due to the fact that in 2015 Amazon opened an online bookstore and in two years it reached the first position in sales. The largest sellers of electronic books in Brazil are Amazon, Apple, Saraiva, Google and Kobo.

Self-publishing has great potential in Brazil, being limited primarily by the lack of personalized services that provide the operational infrastructure. Experts believe that a boom in self-publishing could be created if there was adequate infrastructure, since large companies still have not tried to make ebooks aggregates in Portuguese.

End of the first part.


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. Content industries include: Cinema; Videogames; Consumer eBooks; Music and Audio; Newspaper publishing; Publishing of Science magazines; Publishing of consumer magazines; Educational publications; Advertising on the Internet; TV; Entertainment home videos; etc.

3. The commercial book groups in Brazil are, in order of importance: Sextante, Companhia das Letras (PRH), Record, Intrínseca, Globo, Ediouro (Harpercollins), Rocco, LeYa Brasil, Planeta do Brasil and Novo Conceito. Leading publishers in higher education are: Somos, Grupo Gen, and Grupo A that, together with Elsevier, form the so-called Brazilian Big Four on higher education.


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/

External links

CreateSpace – <http://www.createspace.com/>

Infinitas Learning – <http://www.infinitaslearning.com/>

Klopotek – <http://www.klopotek.com/>

Lulu – <http://www.lulu.com/>

Smashwords – <http://www.smashwords.com/>

Vital Source – <http://www.vitalsource.com/>


Ernesto SpinakAbout Ernesto Spinak

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.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

SPINAK, E. eBooks – global market and trends – Part I: Print and digital publication in the global context [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2016 [viewed ]. Available from: https://blog.scielo.org/en/2016/06/22/ebooks-global-market-and-trends-part-i-print-and-digital-publication-in-the-global-context/


2 Thoughts on “eBooks – global market and trends – Part I: Print and digital publication in the global context

  1. Pingback: În curând, bibliotecile ar putea da cărți electronice cu împrumut, la fel ca pe cele obișnuite – Hacker

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