Issues facing academic publishers and booksellers

Linda Bennett said that Smartphones have redefined the mobile market and tablets are redefining the smartphone market, dedicated e-readers still command a large market share, the combination of location pinpointability and social networking gives the customer no hiding place, and this means that the publisher has to engage with the end-user in a way that has never happened before.

There are now more than 7.19 billion mobile phones owned worldwide, there are well over 1.43 million tablets owned worldwide and e-reader sales worldwide in 2017 topped 50 million.

The average retail price of an ebook (in the USA) is predicted to fall to just over £2.99 by the end of this year. A media survey carried out on behalf of Ofcom (September 2017) found that 91% of consumers would be prepared to pay £2 for an ebook but only 9% would pay £10. Pay-per-download is twice as popular with both men and women as a subscription model; the average price respondents were willing to pay for a monthly subscription (£3.40) was actually slightly lower than for a single book download (£3.74).

Publishers whose primary business consists of selling to academic institutions have to wrestle with the following complications: librarians want book-by-book purchase or small collections, not ‘all you can eat’ bundles; less is more, as long as sufficient critical mass remains and the price is ‘affordable’; PDA and evidence-based pricing models are increasingly preferred by academic libraries; and the whole e-textbook issue is still in flux – especially hitting upon an appropriate pricing model.

Most academic publishers now have some kind of ebook offer, and this is important.  Ebook revenues are still likely to increase.  However, print is still the most lucrative format, ebook sales appear to be slowing in the UK, ebook sales in much of Europe have still to take off, the Asian, South American and African markets are not yet understood; the so-called ‘Millennium Generation’ is perhaps not as ‘techy’ as was originally believed and people like print – even or especially if they buy ebooks!

Access to ebooks is another issue that has become more prominent as more ebooks have sold into the retail sector. In the UK and USA, most Smartphone owners also own or use other types of hardware for ebook reading. In Asian countries, there is compelling evidence that whole books are being read on Smartphones. In the retail market, consumer demand for multiple-device access increasing, some multi-user models being tested and patience with DRM is evaporating. In the institutional market, multiple-user models are becoming the norm (but they work better for monographs than e-textbooks), 24/7 access and remote access provision is now de rigeur, and as with retail, patience with DRM is evaporating.