This week TechCrunch hit another nail in the coffin of eBooks, or so it seemed, with their article entitled “Publisher Revenues Down as eBook Buying Slows.” They are not alone. We have seen similar commentary from Publishers Weekly (“For Books, Print is Back”) and Gizmodo (“Coffin For a Kindle: The eBook Market is Dying in the UK”). But here at Vearsa we beg to differ. It is not the end, just a change. Here is where we see the change most:
1. eBooks are more than fiction
It’s become an accepted fact at this stage... eBooks are the ideal home for fiction. We can sneakily get erotic-fiction fixes on public transport using this cover-avoiding medium. Or use it to hide obsessions with angst-infused teenage vampires and werewolves, despite being well outside the target demographic! But sometimes we need to go beyond the sweeping generalisations and instead have a look at the detail because that is where we might just find some actionable pieces of information.
For example, a look at the Top 300 Titles sold on the Vearsa platform in 2014 shows that 56% of those titles were nonfiction. And, more importantly, 56% of the earnings from those Top 300 titles were also from nonfiction sales. Looking at the next level of detail I find that History e-Books contributed 20% of the nonfiction earnings for the year. And in particular Military History. In a data-hungry world it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between those who buy such books and gamers who have a preference for war game simulations.
2. Cookery and image-rich books are seeing huge growth
And image-rich books, long the bug-bear of digital adoption, have established themselves among our numbers. For example cook books have seen a significant year on year increase in earnings (where ‘significant’ stands for ‘threefold’). Have cooking enthusiasts finally decided that sometimes you just want the recipe without paying a premium for the luxurious hardcover version of the book, with its accompanying lux price?
Photography is another genre where we have seen some impressive growth – up 80%. This shows that a well-produced digital book can grab the attention of people who are now used to looking at photographs on screens instead of paper with a matt-finish.
Here at Vearsa we saw a massive increase in the number of fixed-format conversions commissioned last year. One reason is the improvement in quality of the fixed-format product – your ebook can now look exactly like the print edition. Another factor is the drop in price of converting such titles, which in itself is a reflection of the improved technology now available. And converting image-rich books to fixed-format is not as big a risk as before for publishers because there is a bigger market due to the increase in people owning tablets, as well as the lower cost of converting. An obvious area for reaping these benefits is education/academia
3. The kids are e-reading!
DBW reported in January that 93% of US children aged 2-13 now e-read at least once a week (“Device Growth ‘Kindles’ Growth in Kids’ E-Reading”). Here at Vearsa we saw 65% growth in earnings for Children’s fiction in 2014 compared to prior year. The earlier mentioned fact about the quality of fixed-format products is relevant here too as children’s books are now proving to be much easier to convert, providing readers with the high-quality design and colour features expected of a book for young children.
And books for older children also perform well with classics having a particularly strong year in 2014. Quality is still relevant, but this time it is about the words written several decades ago telling stories that still capture the imagination today.
4. Growth in comics and graphic novels
Comic Book Resources echoed something we at Vearsa have also seen with their headline “Tilting at Windmills: BookScan Numbers Show Big Book Market Growth for Comics in 2014”. This trend is also reflected in market activity, for example Scribd expanded its library in February to include comic books. All helped by improvements in production quality for image-rich content.
There also seems to be some cross-pollination in creativity happening in the comics and graphic novel world. See PW Comics World recent article on “Udon Turns Literary Classics into Manga Adventure” to see books such as Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations given a Manga make-over. They also cover “13 Delicious Comics about Cooking and Eating” to show how the comic book world is even embracing our obsession with cooking. A rise in cook books and comics combined – who would have predicted that!
5. The circle of life…or back to where we began with serialised novels
The recent showing of Series 2 of Broadchurch on ITV garnered lukewarm reviews, but our attention was grabbed by the eBook tie-in. After each episode, a short story relating to one of the characters was released on Kindle, each running at 15-20 pages. Tablets and other e-readers seem like the perfect medium for weekly instalments of stories. Charles Dickens used the serial approach to perfection.
Digital offerings provide people who are short on time with new ways to consume fiction. The serialised release of Rachel Kadish’s novel “I Was Here” on Rooster shows how this can work – allowing readers to feel the same “between-episodes” anticipation as for a favourite TV series. Now that the headache of digital conversion seems to have passed, it’s time for us to get creative around digital formats again with the aim of giving the customer exactly what they want.
So opportunities exist. People are demanding good quality in their digital world, but if they find it they are willing to pay for it.
Anne Gaynor, Senior Data Analyst at Vearsa
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