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U.S. book publishing industry stats from Nielsen

Business-925900_1920Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 is in the rearview mirror but there were a few noteworthy tidbits gleaned from the event. Some of the more important facts and figures were shared by Nielsen’s Jonathan Stolper his state-of-the-U.S.-market presentation.

Although you can argue Nielsen’s data isn’t complete and it’s therefore far from perfect, it’s one of the few resources available for market trends and analysis. With that in mind, here are the most interesting points I saw in Jonathan’s presentation:

Self-publishing and the Big Five are crowding out everyone else – According to Nielsen’s data, from Q1 2014 to Q1 2015, self-published books have grown from 14% to 18% of the overall market. In that same period the Big Five’s share has grown from 28% to 37%. Meanwhile, the rest of the market, all the large, medium and tiny publishers, have seen their share decrease from 58% to 45%.

The print/e split is now roughly 74%/26% – Plenty of articles have been written about the plateauing ebook market. Most publishers report ebooks represent anywhere from 15% to 30% or so of total revenue. According to Nielsen, the current state of equilibrium is closer to a 74%/26% split. That ratio varies widely by genre, btw, but it’s worth looking at your own rate to see how it compares to the overall industry average.

Price drives ebook interest – According to Nielsen’s consumer survey, almost 60% of respondents said they’d choose e over p if the savings is at least $4 for the former. Additionally, approximately 50% said they’d do the same even if the ebook is only $2-3 cheaper than the print version. So as publishers wrestle back consumer pricing via the new agency model, driving ebook prices up, it’s clear they’re inadvertently (and sometimes deliberately) nudging consumers back to print.

Consumer prefer print and e, not or – 49% of consumers surveyed said they bought print and ebooks in the past 6 months vs. 42% who only bought print and a paltry 9% who only bought e. Just because a consumer buys ebooks doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned print. This is a huge opportunity most publishers are overlooking. Why aren’t there more digital products that complement print rather than assume the ebook is replacing the print one?

Amazon dominates subscriptions too – It’s been hard to find data on the all-you-can-read ebook subscription market but Nielsen is finally shining some light on the model. And just as they do pretty much everywhere else, Amazon is crushing it. First of all, according to Nielsen only 5% of consumers have signed up for any ebook subscription solution, so the market remains small. Kindle Unlimited led the way with the largest chunk of market share, jumping from approximately 40% in January 2015 to almost 60% in April. Scribd and Oyster were tiny players by comparison in that period, and they’re only getting smaller. Given their teensy share of a small segment, it’s no wonder Oyster is going away soon.

Btw, this was the first year for the Fair’s Business Club option and I hope it’s not the last. The Business Club was a terrific location for quiet meetings, away from the traffic and noise of the hall floors. It ranked high in serendipity value as well: I bumped into and met with at least a handful of other attendees I might not have crossed paths with otherwise. Highly recommended.


Marion Gropen

Is the 74/26% stat for all books or only trade books?

marcy goldman

This is interesting news and it also reflects my own book sales. My cookbooks in print are at 75% to 25% Ebook version of same cookbook. Running a sale on my books on Kindle changes the ratio but only insofar as people buy the Ebook as a companion to the print one they've already purchased.
It probably has something to do with my genre: cookbooks.


My question about e vs. p adoption is whether consumers are buying both electronic and print versions of the same book, or supplements thereto (or are interested in doing so). The fact that 49% of consumers bought both electronic and print products in and of itself doesn't necessarily indicate that they desire e-compliments to print or vice versa. What other data supports that conclusion?

Joe Wikert

Marion, the stats are for all books Nielsen measures. As I mentioned in the opening, they don't have access to sales of every book from every retailer, but they're a very large data source. Their reach definitely extends beyond trade books.

Marcy, thanks for adding data about your books. Very interesting. I was about to reply to Bennett and note that I seriously doubt anyone buys both the p and e editions of anything but you've obviously proven me wrong!

Bennett, as you can see from my note to Marcy, I've got to believe her experience is an exception. I can't imagine there are very many people buying both the p and e editions of the same book. My point was more about how a lot of people buying print are also buying e, they're obviously comfortable with digital content on phones/tablets/etc, so what about the opportunity for digital companions for print products? I have no data to back up that suggestion, but my gut tells me there's an opportunity.

Bill Gleason

Excellent post and insights. It would be useful if similar information were available sorted by Number Of Titles Sold in print and ebooks. For example, I buy 3 Five dollar (or less) ebooks for every 14.99 blockbuster ebook.

And I buy a lot of books per year, easily a hundred or more.

People only have so much time to read. And the number of dedicated super readers is fairly stagnant.

So to truly see emerging trends, we need both number/titles sold & revenue. The blockbuster is being eroded by good quality, mid-ranged ($ 3,99 to 7.99) titles and series. Many authors are creating 2-4 eminently readable books in the traditional year it takes for a New York house to bring one to market.

And perhaps that is the real trend - more (and increasingly better) e-content brought to market at a very fair price with satisfying frequency.

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