6 Key Takeaways From Aptara’s 3rd Annual Survey of Ebook Publishers

Matthew Mullin

By Matt Mullin, Community Relations Manager, Digital Book World | @mrmullin

At Digital Book World, we’re always looking to find more data on our rapidly evolving industry. At the Digital Book World Conference, happening on January 23-25th in New York, we’ll be presenting lots of up to the minute data from sources like Kearney/BookRepublic, Verso, Bowker, Forrester, and others. But since the pace of change in digital has accelerated so quickly, it is often hard to see how far the industry has come. That’s why the results of Aptara’s third-annual ebook survey of publishers from 2009 to 2011, released today, provide unprecedented insight into ebooks’ real impact on book publishers’ production and business models. The survey represents over 1,300 book publishers from the Trade, Education, Professional, and Corporate markets. The report documents ebook trends, challenges, and strategies that have emerged since Aptara’s first survey in 2009.

Here are six of the most significant findings from all three Aptara surveys over two years. Keep in mind that the survey does not look at just the trade (traditionally, those books that are sold through bookstores), but the entire publishing landscape:

  • Across all segments, publishers are aggressively producing ebooks, but revenues are lagging. Of those publishers that produce ebooks, the majority (57%) derive between 0% and 3% of their revenue from ebook sales. Only 18% generate more than 10% of their revenues from ebooks. Having this birds eye view of the entire publishing market, both domestic and foreign is important because while much of the buzz around ebooks has focused on the shifting trade marketplace, many non-trade, as well as small and foreign publishers aren’t seeing big gains – yet.  On the bright side, 20% of all respondents are generating >10% of their revenues from eBooks.  It’s clear that no matter what market segment, ebooks are no longer nascent.
  • Trade, more than any other publishing market segment, has aggressively increased its ebook pursuits. Trade publishers’ rate of ebook production rose from 50% to 76% in two years. It is clear that ebooks, in the trade especially, have arrived as a key aspect of a publisher’s output. That makes issues of workflow paramount, as it will become increasingly difficult to manage both print and digital workflow separately and simultaneously.
  • Amazon still dominates distribution . . . but by a steadily decreasing margin. While publishers are targeting many more devices and formats, they still rely heavily on Amazon for distribution, but less and less. Publishers’ increased focus on ebooks for EPUB-based platforms and devices, such as the iPad, is eroding the previous dominance of Amazon’s Kindle. This trend is more attributed to the proliferation of other platforms and channels, particularly EPUB-based, than a decline in actual sales for Amazon. The result is a larger “pie.”

Chart: Which channel produces the largest percentage of your eBook sales?

  • Amazon generates the most sales for Trade publishers, even though a comparatively small percentage of Trade content is distributed through Amazon. Despite Trade publishers using all of the main ebook online retailers, Amazon is the one producing sales—and, presumably, revenue—by a disproportionate margin (43%). Interestingly though, outside of the trade, in the STM, College, K-12, and Corporate publishers report that the greatest percentage of their sales come from their own eCommerce sites. In conversations with publishers, we’ve repeatedly noticed the trade looking towards establishing better direct to consumer relationships. It may turn out that trade publishers will want to watch other types of publishers for cues on how to execute an eCommerce strategy.
  • Amazon generates significantly more ebook sales than EPUB-based platforms and devices. However, EPUB eclipses the Amazon Kindle as the most widely targeted ebook platform. This discrepancy reflects Amazon’s aggressive support for Kindle titles on a number of other platforms (PCs, iPads, and Android apps), giving publishers more reasons to publish to its format.

  • Enhanced ebooks remain a nascent market, which publishers are watching closely. Perhaps most significantly, the market for enhanced ebooks has rapidly evolved in the education segment. 35% of all K-12 publishers are already producing enhanced ebooks, compared to only 21% in the trade. This could support the opinions of Mike Shatzkin, who recently said,

    “Even though I’ve been a skeptic about the commercial viability of “enhanced” ebooks and content-based apps, my reservations are inversely proportional to the age of the intended reader … While enhancement for adult books, particularly for books of immersive reading like novels or narratives of history, has required creators to figure out ways to change established behavior that immersive readers will accept (with a stark lack of success so far, I’d say), we’ve been delivering “enhanced” children’s books for years.”

    Whether creators do figure out ways to enhance adult trade books or not, at this time, many publishers may be waiting for a more settled marketplace for devices and the full integration of EPUB 3 before they decide on a larger strategy.

These are just a few of the takeaways to be gleaned from the Aptara survey. You can download a free copy here (registration is required). If you are a publisher and would like to be included in Aptara’s fourth survey, scheduled for the Spring of 2012, contact Aptara at www.aptaracorp.com.

Ed note: There is only 10 days left to save $400 to register at the early bird rate for Digital Book World Conference + Expo. You’ll want to act fast.

For more information on the survey, you can view the slides from our free WEBcast, Ebooks’ Real Impact on the Publishing Market: 2009-2011.

3 thoughts on “6 Key Takeaways From Aptara’s 3rd Annual Survey of Ebook Publishers

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  2. Stanislav Mamonov

    The survey findings a bit odd. Specifically in relation to the contribution of revenue from ebooks across publishers. In our experience the revenue contribution is roughly as follows:

    Amazon: ~55%
    B&N: ~25%
    Apple + Kobo: ~17%

    1. Matt Mullin Post author

      That lines up pretty closely with what I’ve been hearing from other publishers, Stanislav. The question asks which channel produces the “largest percentage,” so in your case, the answer would be Amazon. I’d be curious to speak with the ~6% who named Apple/Kobo/B&N as their largest percentage of sales. I wonder what they’re doing that bucks the trends you’re seeing. What I find most fascinating about it is the number of publishers who are selling direct and finding that doing so beats out any of their distribution partners.



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