With eBook Sales Flat, Is it Time to Experiment with New Models?
The Book Industry Study Group recently released Report Two of Consumer Attitudes Towards eBook Reading, Volume 4. It is filled with a lot of excellent data regarding eBook sales. One of the main take-aways is that over the past year, eBook sales have flattened out at 30% of units and 15% of dollars.
Although there have been many predictions of 40-50% eBook market-share, this news is not surprising. Amazon Kindle ushered in the ‘modern’ eBook market almost six years ago. As with most industries, there is an initial period of hyper-growth and then it slows down to a natural pattern. The majority of eBook sales are still via traditional sites Amazon, B&N Nook and Apple. As these markets flatten out, is it time to look at other models for further growth?
Some platforms to watch:
Subscription (“un-limited reading”) – This is the hot button for many. “Netflix for eBooks” and “Spotify for eBooks” are two of the more over-used phrases in the industry. The recent Scribd and Oyster launches into subscription have many watching and discussing. How much will readers gravitate towards these models? One of the major issues with the music industry subscription models is that the talent and music companies make pennies. But, according to HarperCollins president Brian Murray, the Scribd deal is “the exact opposite of the music industry’s subscription models.” Maybe they have figured out a system that will work. By being first in, Harper probably got the best deal.
Subscription (“eBook-of-the-month”) – This is similar to the earlier subscriptions model in that the consumer signs up for a monthly set fee. But different in that it isn’t an “all you can read model.” This platform is a guarantee sale of 2-4 books a month. This model protects the price and continues to directly attach the royalties to the specific title. One of the start-ups leading in this area is eReatah. They have signed up Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and a dozen other publishers and are set to launch this Fall.
Libraries – eBooks into libraries has been another dynamic discussion these days. Over the past year all of the Big5 have committed to selling eBooks to this channel. But there are still a lot of restrictions and hurdles. Limits on checkouts, high prices and long-waiting times on the best sellers all put a strain on budgets and the ability of libraries to buy deep into the lists. But a couple of models have emerged that allow all books to be available but only pay when checked out.
There are experiments from Total BooX and Freading. In both platforms, the library shows the entire catalog of the participating publishers to the reader. The library pays for the books when the patron checks out the book. Many of these titles are deep backlist that might not have been purchased by the library, but these systems allow for the opportunity for them to be selected before purchase. The Westchester Library System is experimenting with both systems. If you are a library cardholder, you can access both systems and check it out.
Direct-To-Consumer (D2C) – DBW parent, F+W Media has 13 verticals that sell direct. They have done this focusing on communities such as Craft and selling through sites like Interweave.com. Super-brand Harry Potter established Pottermore and sells only HP titles (in 11 different languages). Scholastic, playing on their traditional strength of direct to teachers and schools, sells their own titles and other publishers direct via Storia. Baen Books has been selling SF-Fantasy titles direct for years and recently started selling on Kindle, iBooks and Nook. Most publishers are experimenting with direct-to-consumer sale of eBooks.
Amazon – The market leader remains on top by continuing to experiment with many models. They have their Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) that lets Prime members get one book a month free to borrow. They also have a subscription service called the Kindle Free Time Unlimited. It has 1,000 children’s books from top brands, over 300 videos and 200 Android Apps. Amazon will always be around the innovation.
This is a sampling of some of the new platforms. As eBook sales move into the next phase, there will be more experimentation and opportunities to sell eBooks.
There are other companies starting up and selling eBooks in creative ways. If you know of any, please comment.
(Note: I currently work with eReatah and have consulted Total BooX in the past.)