Are the E-book ‘Barbarians at the Gate’?
E-book sales continue to grow, and some in the industry anticipate an e-book era is near.February 2007 By Brian R. Hook
EBooks Corporation Ltd., which provides more than 70,000 e-book titles to consumers at eBooks.com, estimates that the e-book market hit $130 million in 2006, and expects it to reach $220 million this year. “Five years out, the total e-book market will be between $3 billion and $5 billion,” projects Stephen Cole, managing director of eBooks, which has partnerships with 327 publishers worldwide, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Zondervan, Dell, Warner Books and Oxford University Press.
Cole says this projection is based on several factors, including eBooks’ performance, its knowledge of its competitors’ business, and its own industry analysis.
“As e-book adoption accelerates, it will be interesting to see what happens to existing high-street retail booksellers, and especially the multibillion-dollar wholesalers,” Cole says. “The major operators in the traditional channels are asleep at the wheel. The barbarians are at the gates, having prepared themselves for years for this moment.”
Other market reports’ figures are lower than eBooks’ estimates. An Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) report places U.S. gross e-book sales for 2006, as of October, at $22 million, showing a 26.2 percent increase over the $17.4 million reported at the same point in 2005.
While trade and standards association International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) doesn’t have 2006 figures available yet, its figures for 2005 indicate sales of 1.6 million e-book units, totaling $11.8 million.
These e-book sales figures compare to the industry’s overall book sales of $25.1 billion, according to AAP.
Nick Bogaty, IDPF executive director, says the e-book market is hard to estimate because it is in its early stages. He expects significant growth in trade, education and library sales. “The market should at least double in 2007,” Bogaty says.
Regardless what statistics say, many in the industry have been curious how Sony’s Reader, which was released at the tail end of September 2006, has been fairing. Some believe that is a better indication of how quickly consumers will “take” to e-books.
“It certainly met or exceeded our expectations for sales last quarter,” says Ron Hawkins, Sony’s vice president, Portable Reader Systems. “Everything we’ve produced, we’ve shipped.”
Looking down the road, Hawkins says, “In terms of the three- to five-year time frame, our interest is in seeing this grow into a mass market, and certainly Sony’s not going to do that alone. We expect, as a result of our success … to see … other people entering all aspects of the e-book market, from publishing to other hardware devices to applications.”
E-book sales*: $11.8 million
Overall book sales**: $25.1 billion
Source: *IDPF, **Association of American Publishers