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Ebook growth slows

25 November 2013

This week has yielded some rather unexpected figures from both sides of the Atlantic relating to ebook sales. In the States it looks as if ebook sales are in decline, whereas in the UK there's also a tempering in projections of ebook growth.

The consensus is still that digital has turned publishing upside down, but there is more confidence and a calmer and more business-like feeling in publishing about the changes it has wrought.

The latest Nielsen Understanding the Consumer Ebook Report suggests that in the UK ebook sales are continuing to slow and their increases in market share are largely a reflection of the decline in print book sales.

The Bookseller's recent Digital Census 2013, a prelude to their Futurebook conference last week, has some useful indications of how things are going with ebooks in the UK. Publishers' sales of ebooks have now hit double digits and currently account for more than 10% of their total revenues. More than half of publishers responding to the census say that ebook sales account for more than 10% of their total revenue and just over a third say they account for more than 20%. Ebook prices are stabilising around £3.20.

In the US ebook sales seem in the most recent months to be in decline - adult ebook sales have declined for four months in a row. This may be partly because two big bestsellers, Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey, had disproportionately large sales in ebook form. Now their sales have declined from the peak, so there is a more normal relationship between ebook and print book sales.

These figures do suggest that the jury is still out on what proportion of book sales will be in ebook form in, say, five or even ten years. It's still possible to remember that not long ago, forecasters looking at the book trade announced that print books were moribund and that within five years everyone wold have converted to reading ebooks only. That no longer seems to be particularly likely.