Study: Ebook Growth Stagnating in 2013

Once thought destined to reach 50% or 80% of all book buying and reading in the U.S., ebooks have stalled out on their way up to higher altitude.

According to a new study from the Book Industry Study Group, for the past year or so, the share of all new ebooks sold — both in units and dollars — has been flat at about 30% and just under 15%, respectively.

ebook share of new books sold

At the same time, the percent of book buyers who read ebooks on at least a weekly basis as well as the percent who have bought an ebook have similarly stalled at around 20% and 25%, respectively.

percent of book buyers who read ebooks

Those who planned on further ebook growth over the past year may be d. However, this doesn’t mean that ebooks won’t continue to grow. The report later shows purchase intent for tablets and e-readers. Consumers still intend to buy many of both, especially the former. As more people have e-reading devices in their hands, there is a likelihood that adoption of ebook reading will continue to increase.

The report offers tempered good news on this front:

As the innovation curve reaches its later stages, an innovation often becomes accepted as a natural component of the industry’s business environment rather than an exception. Considerable evidence suggests that e‑books and other digital content products are now well established product categories that offer consumers a broader range of reading options resulting in an overall increase in reading activity.


The study, the latest version of the Book Industry Study Group’s Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading, was conducted in August 2013 among 1,048 Americans aged 13 and up.

Related: Learn more about the present and future of ebooks at Digital Book World 2014!

21 thoughts on “Study: Ebook Growth Stagnating in 2013

  1. Pingback: Faber Factory Study: Ebook Growth Stagnating in 2013 - Faber Factory

  2. Thad McIlroy

    I’m asking this as an open question; I don’t know the answer:
    Do we still assume the the numbers coming from these BISG reports, even while based on a consumer survey, do not in fact come close to reflecting the impact of the smallest publishers and the cadre of self-publishers on total ebook adoption and sales (perhaps in large part because of the absence of participation by Amazon)?

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  5. Noah Genner

    I think the impact of ebook adoption on self-published authors is huge, but that isn’t what this study is measuring, or not directly.
    The participation of Amazon doesn’t really matter for this consumer survey. The study is asking consumers what/where/why they bought a specific book(s) – they may have bought them at Amazon – but it isn’t asking Amazon what the consumer bought.
    From my experience asking a consumer if a book is from a small publisher, or is self-published, isn’t useful at all. That is something those of us in the business care about – consumers generally don’t. Did they like it? Did they get it for a good price? That’s what they care about.

    –Noah Genner

  6. Michael W. Perry

    The stall in sales isn’t that surprising. Ebooks are still like computers were at the DOS stage. They’re not a mature technology, so they’ll only attract certain kinds of readers, mostly fiction and heavily romance novels

    Reasons for the stall include:

    1. A lot of book sales are as gifts. Gifting an ebooks is still rather weird and clumsy.

    2. The richness and complexity of books still hasn’t been duplicated. At one extreme are most ebooks, clumsy at displaying text well and downright awful when pictures are included. Amazon is especially bad there. At the other extreme is Apple’s iBooks Author, which may be visual but forces a particular kind of visual–high school textbooks–on readers. I’ve got about a dozen serious non-fiction books I could port to ebooks if an acceptable way to include endnotes (pop-up) existed. Still better would be two sorts of notes. One for things worth reading. One for references that can usually be ignored.

    3. DRM, incompatible formats, proprietary lock-in, and in general the feeling that, in buying an ebook, you’re merely leasing it for as long as the retailer wants to support the format it is in. There’s no way to sell it, loan it to a friend, or pass it along as an inheritance. And who wants to have their book collection lost across half-a-dozen readers?

    The chief failing is that, for reasons that defy good sense, ebooks have been treated as long and simplistic web pages. ePub is just crippled HTML. Ebook readers are often just crippled web readers. All the hassles of HTML are there but few of the benefits. The only real difference is that DRM makes reading ebooks for less simple.

    Digital publishing shouldn’t have begun by looking at websites and asking, \How can we do that?\ It should have begun by looking at printed books and asking, \How can we do all that?\ Only after ebooks could do what print could do in Gutenberg’s day, should fancy features such as multi-media be added.

  7. Dan Oja

    @Michael: I agree that we are still in the early days of ebooks–more the Model T era than anything else. First generation technologies like epub are adequate for some needs, but are simply not sufficient for many markets and publications.

    For example, our focus is primarily on digital publishing in the educational market. In the educational market, \advanced\ features such as support for complex layouts, multimedia, learner feedback, assessment, local and online access, delivery of scores to instructors, and activity statements/stream are very useful–perhaps vital to success. But, those features alone are not sufficient–they must be coupled with fast, cost-effective, and scalable \create once, run everywhere\ production systems that allow publishers to create and deliver such content on a wide range of devices, using multiple delivery methods and channels.

    We are currently working with many partners who understand these needs and are working very hard to fill them.

  8. Joanna Penn

    I think your headlines need to be country specific, because the mature markets may be stalling, but the rest of the world has barely started their ebook growth – which means exciting times ahead! In the last month, I’ve sold ebooks in 22 countries – from Brazil to Burkina Faso – early days for sure, but I think publishers and authors need to start looking to the rest of the world. America isn’t the only country of readers!

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  10. Cynthia Khoury

    I think it is safe to say that in 2013 print book sales haven’t been all that great either. I haven’t done a formal research, this is just the feedback of my many acquaintances and friends who work in publishing houses and bookstores.
    If the sales of print books have indeed suffered in 2013, then I believe any pessimism regarding the stagnating growth of ebooks should be attributed to 2013 being a bad year for book selling, print books and ebooks alike.

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