Thursday, December 03, 2009
Bookseller Survey: Cheaper e-books needed to drive digital growth
02.12.09 Victoria Gallagher in The Bookseller
Cheaper e-books and the emergence of an Apple e-reader will be the main factors in driving digital publishing forward, according to a landmark survey of more than 1,000 book trade professionals conducted ahead of The Bookseller's Digital Conference "FutureBook" being held 2nd December in London, sponsored by Wiggin.
The survey also found that more than 88% of respondents thought bookshops would lose out from the growth in digital sales, while 55% said they did not support the revised Google Settlement.
The results also shed more light on the problems publishers face pricing e-books. The results showed that though 44% of respondents had read a book digitally, only 19% had bought one. The majority of respondents said that e-books should be priced at the same cost as a paperback book (30.1%), or cheaper (53.6%).
At the moment publishers price e-books at the same price as the prevalent print edition, but this was seen by respondents as a hindrance to the growth of digital book sales. "The high price of e-books is the main obstacle to their takeup," said one respondent. "Readers can't understand why the online versions of bricks and mortar shops sell ebooks at higher than paperback prices."
But there was also concern that low priced e-books could devalue other editions. E-books "must not be underpriced thus devaluing the 'book' as a product irrespective of mode of delivery", said one, while another respondent stressed that it was "important not to devalue the work that has gone into writing, editing and formatting the content". One publisher summed up the dilemma: "Obviously as a publisher I appreciate the huge backend costs for producing digital product however as a customer I would want to pay less - we do when we download an album."
Many respondents believed that the publishing industry would undergo huge changes with the emergence of new digital products. Over 67% of the 1,080 respondents who completed the survey said that book trade professionals should re-skill to take advantage of digital media.
High street bookshops have most to lose from the increased use of digital content with 88% believing this sector would be most hit. However, despite the gloomy prediction, many said that there need not be any losers. "Everyone will gain by making reading easier and more accessible - and by widening the appeal to younger people (i.e. mobile audiences). High street bookshops need to become service providers for readers - technology, some printed books (e.g. children's books, maps, art books), advice, author readings, seminars, learning centres, event hosts, etc."
Another said: "Those who embrace it and move forward making their content easy to access digitally and stop focusing on the bottom line [will gain]." But not all were prepared to see a positive side from the rise of digital: "Content will suffer greatly but there will be a greater spread of content accessible to a greater number of book buyers. Everything will get a little closer to pulp content but there will be a lot more pulp content consumers."
Almost 70% of those surveyed said that interoperable e-book formats and devices would be key to the growth of digital publishing. Despite the emergence of mobile phone apps, 42% said that most people would read e-books on a dedicated e-reader in the future. Apple was named as the company which would come out 'top' in the e-reader wars with support from 52% despite not even having a dedicated e-reader out on the market as yet: Amazon was a close second, with Sony a distant third.
The new Google Settlement continues to prove controversial with 55% of respondents saying they did not support the revised Settlement, though 58% thought this version would be approved anyway by the US court.
The majority of respondents said that less than 10% of current sales were from e-books (47%). But by 2025 16% said that more than 51% of sales would be from digital content, whereas just 5% said the electronic market would be less than 10% of total sales.
Over 50% of the survey responses came from publishers with the remainder coming from booksellers, librarians, agents and authors.