Posted on April 19, 2013 in Archive

Digital books: the question mark of the publishing industry

The rise of the digital publishing industry has been surrounded by a lot of hype in recent years. It’s no secret that Australian readers have readily adopted digital books. Exactly how many digital books have been sold in Australia, however, remains a mystery.

A article from Digital Publishing Australia discusses the lack of statistics concerning digital book sales in Australia and the frustration this causes for people in the publishing industry. For the last decade or so, Neilsen BookScan has been responsible for collecting data for print books sales in Australia. At the moment they aren’t able to access digital book sales data, and there is no other alternative. That’s because the major digital book retailers are keeping all of the key information to themselves.

As a result, there is currently no clear picture of what is happening in the digital book market. This void of statistical data isn’t just limited to Australia. Worldwide, publishers are calling for more information.

I’m sure you’ve all come across some statistics from the big digital book retailers, like Apple, Amazon, and Google. They’re more than happy to provide us with comments like, ‘our digital book sales increased by 160% on last year’, or ‘according to a recent survey, 24% of Australians over the age of 18 own a digital book’.

This information is usually about the rapidly increasing popularity of their products, and none of it is supported by raw data.

If digital books are so popular, why are there so few stats?

The fact that a handful of large retailers are able to hold sales data prisoner highlights how little influence most publishers have had in the digital sphere up to now. If the figures were phenomenal, I’m sure they would be boasting.  Due to the immediacy of the digital landscape, digital book retailers receive their sales information directly. The fact that they decline to share this information is an indication that perhaps the figures aren’t as impressive as they would like us to believe.

I’m inclined to argue that the lack of figures offered by big retailers highlights how little influence publishers have had in digital publishing up to now. I’m also inclined to argue that the lack of transparency is just another symptom of publishing’s slow acceptance of all things digital. In the past, publishers associations have been slow to start collecting their own data on digital book sales. This shows that up until now, the majority of publishers have shown little attention to the future of the industry.

A new chapter in publishing has started. It’s time for publishers to adopt a more visibly enthusiastic approach to the promotion of this versatile and accessible media technology. It’s also time for digital retailers to answer the questions regarding the statistics on digital book uptake by releasing more data.