Before the Next Ebook Surge

As we all know, the new norm is that in the next week there will be recorded a big surge in purchases in ebook reading hardware (including tablets, which are not just for reading). This will be followed, of course, by a surge in purchases of ebooks.

But what about between the surges? What’s the new level of purchase? The assumption is certainly that each surge builds on itself to increase the overall level of ebook use and purchase… is this true?

Before this surge hits, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at just a couple of the countless reporting of statistics and opinions; and also at something that might have a big post-surge impact.

Starting with the recent past—Digital Book World recently discussed sales figures from the AAP. In 2012 children’s ebook sales went up 475.1% in January and 177.8% in February, but pulled back to “only” 50% by August. Sales for adult trade ebooks were up 34%. Would you like to own a business that settled down to a 50% increase? Me, too.

BTW, through August, adult ebooks were 21% of revenue; children’s ebooks were 13%.

Anybody want to guess numbers for the next two months? I would bet that we see similar numbers to last January and February. Not to beat this surge metaphor to death, but the water has risen and it ain’t going down.

Looking forward, this magazine recently reported on the results of a new study by Simba Information. While I do not have the $1,295 needed to purchase “The iPad and Its Owner: Key Trends and Statistics 2013” (and even if I did…), I thought the summary was interesting enough.

Cutting to the chase— 1 in 5 U.S. adults owns an iPad and, they project, “within five years tablet owners will outnumber print book buyers.” It was just 2009 when Simba had reported that the most popular ebook reader was the personal computer. A really interesting point made by Michael Norris, Senior Analyst at Simba Information’s Trade Books Group, is that “books lost their portability advantage with the tablet.”

All of you print lovers, and sellers, take a breath. He also firmly believes that this is not the end of print. As we already know, iPad owners tend not to use them to read ebooks (once again, I’m out of the norm). Also iPad owners buy more of everything than the general population, including print books.

He also points out that consumers find some things about print very valuable; and that there are untapped opportunities for print and digital distribution to work together. He sees possibilities in learning from digital marketing to combine the two.

I have seen Michael Norris speak and think that Simba and he have valuable opinions…and not just because he agrees with me that print is not dead. But the estimated timeframe for iPad buyers overtaking print buyers was a surprise to me. That will be only eight years from people reading ebooks primarily on desktops to iPads outselling print.

Finally, I am really curious to see what happens with Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, an unlimited digital offering for children, aimed at kids 3-8 years old. For a monthly fee kids get access to ebooks, movies, apps, games, etc. All are, of course screened to be “age-appropriate.

It’s kind of a version of Amazon Prime for little kids. Hey, hook them early, right?

The ebook part is, of course, particularly interesting. Participating publishers include Chronicle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and others. According to, Amazon is ahead of the competitors like Bookboard, Ruckus Reader, and Scholastic’s Storia in “variety of offerings and the price.”

Of course, Amazon being Amazon, you need to own one of the newer Kindle Fires for this to work. It won’t even work on an older Kindle Fire.

With the number of Kindle Fires sure to be sold this month, I suspect that this is bound to be a big factor in getting ebooks in kids’ hands.

It will be interesting to see, a year from now, just how much that figure of 13% for children’s books has gone up.

Michael Weinstein is a member of the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and has 35 years experience in production, manufacturing, content management and change management.

He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.

In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.
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  • Richard Lindemann

    Seem’s like it’s mighty easy to have a 500% increases when you are comparing it to nothing any time a new product market comes out and I see these kinds of comparisons I have to laugh.