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Low-priced ebook sales a threat

28 January 2013

At last there's some hard information on ebook sales in the UK and an interesting indication of future trends in the US. The Bookseller has managed to put together some ebook sales figures which show that ebook sales in the UK are currently worth around £250m.

There has been a huge impact from the 20p ebook offers from Sony and Amazon and real signs that they may be cannibalising book sales. These low prices mean that the value is lower too. Philip Jones writes in Futurebook:

'The amount paid by the consumer for their e-books will be smaller. We might be talking about 10% of the overall e-book market that is books selling at 20p. At consumer prices that would have had a dampening impact on last year's numbers: if 10% of those 65m e-books were actually sold at 20p, then the value of the market at consumer prices would look more like £215m. If this persists, in 2013 as the rate of volume growth accelerates, the rate of value growth will continue to diminish. The consumer will be paying less for more. Significantly less, for significantly more, in fact.

How we now react will be important. If 20p continues it will become a strategy just as £1 e-books were once thought of as the cutting edge of marketing, and everyone will be forced to come up with a response. If we are not careful 20p will start to redefine the e-book business in the UK.'

This is a highly risky situation for authors, as clearly a 20p ebook, which may be a great deal for the consumer, is no use at all to publishers or authors, as the sum is too small to provide any real income for either.

In the US ebook sales for the month were down 11.5%, returning to pre-Fifty Shades of Grey levels, showing what a huge impact just one book can have. EbooksDigital bookstore selling wide range of ebooks in 50 categories from Hildegard of Bingen to How to Write a Dirty Story and showing how the range of ebooks available is growing. http://www.ebooks.com/ comprised just 19% of trade sales for the month, which was their lowest percentage since April 2012.

There does seem to be a slowing-down in the rate at which ebooks are being adopted by readers. It has been argued that readers have experimented with ebooks and are now returning to paper formats out of preference. This is difficult to prove but the first ereader adopters were keen readers just as much - or more - as they were early adopters of technology. No-one seems any more to be predicting that everyone will have adopted ebooks within five years and print will no longer be required by the market. Now it looks as if there will be room for both and demand for both for different occasions.

As Richard Mollet, chief executive of the UK Publishers Association, said: "The significant growth in the e-book market shows that e-reading is clearly not destined to remain a minority sport, rather, it will take an increasingly important place in the market. While digital sales are growing by comparison to physical sales, nothing points towards a catastrophic cannibalisation of one format by the other, but rather it points to a diversification of the reading audience."