Monday, April 25, 2011

Professional and scholarly 75.9% of ebook sales

Ebooks dominated by Professional books?

"According to a press release from Simba Information, a well-known book publishing market researcher, professional and scholarly books — which include science, technology, medical, business, and legal – “hold 75.9% of the $1.76 billion U.S. E-book market.” That’s a percentage of a dollar volume, which makes sense, as these will be among the more expensive titles."

First, that puts the ebook market a wee bit larger than I was expecting!
Then again, we've been focused on novels and other entertainment books.

Most IT professional I know buy several texts per year and practically all of them switched to ebooks (mostly pdf format) a few years ago. Could this be biased by a few industries?

If technical books are already that far to ebooks... We're not just past the tipping point, we're about at the point where *all* the kids studying science at the college level will swap to ebooks.

I wonder at the survey. I'm a little surprised at the text sales levels. Now, this won't show up in my graphs (they're not 'trade' books). But this 'teaches' a huge group a people to use ebooks...

Late edit:
Another article linking the same survey:
“Librarians understand these needs, which can only be serviced on an electronic platform.”

Makes sense, my employer put the google desktop on all our machines so that we could search our own work... Why buy a technical reference without search?

Got Popcorn?


  1. Howdy Neil -- long time no see! I had just assumed you had quit blogging for good til I realized you had switched from real estate to E Books.

    I probably wont be a common (or even occasional) contributor around here, but I gotta know, did you & the fam ever get a place? If so, did you get a good deal & are you happy with it? Did you ever see any significant, widespread weakness in the South Bay?

  2. Hey The Anonymous,

    Yea... real estate became a touchy issue at work. Too many coworkers knew of my prior real estate blog and were upset that I thought real estate would decline. So I went to books...

    We still haven't bought a home. The South Bay real estate is rather weak and did see significant widespread drops. I was keeping track of data until a few months ago when zip reality changed their format.

    One issue is my industry is going through mass layoffs (about 15% of the workforce). :( So no buying until that 'wave' goes through. Otherwise, we probably would have bought a home last winter. They are far more affordable...

    But a different blog topic now.

    Got Popcorn?

  3. Oh, still on real estate. The small neighborhood we want to buy into has (IIRC) 272 homes. Normally, only six to eight go up for sale per year with a shelf life of weeks in this super stable neighborhood.

    Right now there are a eight homes on the market with four foreclosures due to hit the market soon. Prime listing season is June-September locally. (When most homes are offered for sale.)

    We've gone from being almost priced out of the market to debating if we want to go to a neighborhood of larger homes (that isn't as fun).

    We won't even look at homes we were considering two years ago. (Prices dropped ~30%.)


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Wow sounds like you will have the pick of the litter once the layoffs abate.

    No such good news here. Much of DC is now starting year 3 of its recovery. In Arlington, after a "peak to trough" maximum decline of 10.02%, prices rose 0.2% in 09, 4.6% in 2010 and (thusfar) about 4.3% in 2011.

    Even worse for me, that -10.02% drop was an aggregate for all of Arlington. In reality, it was closer to a -15% to -20% drop for the low end, and a -2% to -5% drop for the high end. Again, that was at the trough. Today, the low end is down 10% and the high end is at or above peak (my friend's office paid for the local Case Shiller data and he looked up a few zipcodes for me).

    So at the end of the day, large swaths of the desirable parts of Arlington saw a massive rise, and a miniscule drop, leaving prices +130% for the decade (and going up). Isnt that incredible? Large parts of DC and the nation will remember the 2000s as the decade of the "great boom" and "great bust" -- in Arlington, its as if nothing happened. People there refer to it as simply the "great boom" and the last time it was ever truly affordable.

    I have a contract pending on a house, hoping to close next week. In the end, I will pay about 300K more than the prices I were told were "simply unsustainable" back in 2003. Add to that, another 150K in rent I paid over the last 8 years, and its pretty devestating. I can afford it, but still, waiting, will prove by far to be the worst financial decision I have ever made.

  6. Hey Neil,

    This is slightly off-topic, but I know you will want to hear it.

    It looks like e-books are making a move in the UK. There was an article in The Bookseller today analysing Amazon's quarterly figures.

    In the first quarter of 2011, Amazon’s #1 selling product across all categories (presumably in terms of revenue rather than units) was the Kindle 3G.

    Out of the top ten selling products across all categories, five were books.
    But out of those, only one was a print book (the non-stop-selling Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver was’s – the third highest selling product)

    The other four were e-books, in positions four, five, nine, and ten: The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, The Basement by Stephen Leather, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Stephen Leather's Hard Landing.

    All of the e-books (and the print book) come from trade publishers, except for “The Basement” which is one of Stephen Leather’s self-published works.

    The full article is here:


  7. As far as real estate goes, our house has yet to recover its value. (We bought at the peak. Yay us.) Not that we are in any position to move in any case. Unless I start selling a LOT more ebooks. Which, hey, brings us to the next topic. :)

    Obviously the availability of scholarly texts varies from field to field. I'm not surprised to find IT at the forefront. But the liberal arts? Ahem. Not exactly tech-forward. Most of my colleagues still think of books as that newfangled technology that replaced scrolls, or want to know why my typewriter has a big tv in front. Ok, it's not THAT bad, but it's bad. Very, very few of the books I need are available as ebooks.

  8. First,
    I apologize, I hadn't noticed that some comments were held for moderation.

    I used to have a pretty detailed real estate blog... with no comments, I figured it was safe to discuss whatever!

    I find the development of ebooks in Europe exciting. I have not a clue why the US is that far ahead. Is it just Amazon and B&N market penetration?

    I'm not surprised that different fields have different rates of adoption. Do your friends understand why your "typewriter" has to be plugged in? ;) My field went from maybe 40% of the texts available in ebook to the majority in six months.

    However, I use a broad term for 'ebook,' as most are encrypted pdf files and not epub or .mob. For those the Kindle DX or a laptop is required.

    The Anon,
    I'm not sure if my industry is still large enough locally to create further price drops. I always said with real estate I would buy when I estimate we're within $100k of the bottom. For where I want to buy, we're there (in my opinion). Prices are dropping (My wife just showed me a home listed for $830k that would have been $1.5k at the peak.) Homes are not moving and I'm floored by the quantity available this year. What is weird is how many have signs, open houses, but *are not* in the MLS...
    3 of 8 homes for sale locally are not in the MLS.


  9. Neil,

    There are a number of factors.

    #1 - no B&N at all (they have no interest in international despite the global book trade being estimated at $80bn).

    #2 - no real Amazon competitor - meaning they get lazy about adapting their sites to European needs and doing simple things like having the Kindle actually on sale

    #3 - higher cost of e-readers in real and relative terms. Even when the Kindle went on sale officially in Germany, it was 50% higher than the U.S. If you are taking somewhere like Spain, Italy, or Eastern Europe, the cost of living is much lower than the U.S. so the relative cost is even higher.

    #4 Sales tax. 20% sales tax (or higher) is common in Europe. It applies to e-readers and e-books (but not print books).

    #5 Infrastructure. Broadband penetration is much lower due to poor investment in infrastructure and much higher cost. Same goes for free wifi hotspots.

    #6 Politics. In some countries like France & the UK, the publishing associations are powerful and have helped to bring in laws to retard the growth of e-books.

    #7 Less Indie Publishers. Because you only get the 70% rate from Amazon if you sell to a customer in the UK or Germany, this has made self-publishing less attractive to some, coupled with a few other tax issues and extra costs for Europeans.

    There are lots more reasons, but that's just off the top of my head.

    Europe will follow America, and a lot of the stuff above will change when e-books gain a larger share of the market. The U.K. market is probably the most advanced, followed by Germany then France.

    But even then, the UK market is still a year behind. If they dropped the sales tax on e-books (and there is talk), they could close the gap quickly.


  10. Neil,

    There was a very important one I left out.

    Amazon add a $2 Whispernet surcharge to all international downloads through your Kindle if you are using it in a country where the Kindle hasn't officially launched (i.e. outside Germany and the UK).

    This is added regardless of the price of the e-book (so a $0.99 download will become $2.99 plus sales tax).

    The effects of this don't need to be spelled out.

    There is a workaround - you download the Kindle title to your PC then port it to your Kindle through a USB cable - but most people don't seem to be aware of it.


  11. David,

    You make good points.
    I wonder why Amazon hasn't expanded faster. That $2 'whispernet' charge has effects, as you noted, that don't need to be spelled out.

    I'm too lazy to move files from my PC to the Kindle... its too easy to e-mail. The fee for files here in the US is minute enough to not worry about it...

    The 20% sales tax would be a killer too. Is that added to the whispernet fee too?

    #6 and #7 are interesting points... But the issue is that it means their authors will suffer.

    Time to blog a new article...

  12. the sales tax is added first, then the whispernet surcharge. So a $0.99 cent download will typically cost $3.19 or so, a $2.99 download will cost around $5.59, and a $9.99 download will cost $13.99

    BIG difference.

    And don't even get me started on the way Amazon game exchange rates so that the actual price you pay when you see your credit card bill is even higher...

    A well-run customer-friendly competitor could do them damage in Europe, or at least force them to change their practices.