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US ebook unit sales declined 15%, but there's good news on children's publishing

30 January 2017

Nielsen has just reported that ebook sales in the US declined a rather surprising 15% in 2016, as compared with 2015. There seem to have been two reasons for this.

The return of agency pricing by the Big Five trade houses in 2015 raised e-book prices by an average of $3, leveling off at about $8 per book. That jump in prices coincided with the downturn in e-book sales for traditional publishers. And while e-book prices for the Big Five were rising, prices for self-published books were around $3. Price is the top priority for e-book buyers when considering which book to purchase.

The second reason for the decline in e-book sales is the increasing use by book buyers of tablets and smartphones to read e-books and the decline in use of dedicated e-book readers. Since the latter buyers purchase more ebooks than the more casual book-buyers reading on tablets and smartphones, there has been a decline in ebook purchase.

Most amazingly, hardback sales have overtaken ebook sales for the first time since 2012. If you look back to the early days of ebooks, this is a long way from the commonly-asserted prediction that ebooks would totally replace print books within five years!

In a Nielsen study of children's reading in the US, there is encouraging news that boys aged 9-12 are reading more.

The report on the study concludes that:

‘Traditionally, children's book specialists understand that they're marketing to parents. What Nielsen's stats indicate, however, is that in many cases in this group of adventure-and-fantasy readers, the boys are asking for these books themselves. This appears to be, in fact, the most prevalent influence on these purchases, particularly in gift occasions.'

A more detailed breakdown on this report is available at Publishing Perspectives.

There's also signs that in the UK market children's book sales are continuing their remarkable run, with record sales for the third year running, also topping overall growth for the same period. The Bookseller reported that: ‘Almost £1 in every £4 (24%) spent on print books in the UK last year was on a children's title. In volume, there was an even bigger slice of the pie: one in three (34%) of physical titles purchased last year were kids' books.' The full report is behind the paywall but its conclusions are extremely encouraging for children's authors.