Canadians continued to be enamored with reading reading digital books. Over half of all publishers (52%) saw increases in ebook revenue compared with 2020 and just over a quarter of all publishers (28%) saw increases in audiobook revenue in the same period. This bodes well for the digital publishing industry and also companies that sell e-readers and ebooks, such as Amazon and Kobo.
In 2021, revenue from digital books was approximately 40% frontlist and 60% backlist. This is the same as the breakdown of print book sales reported by BNC SalesData, where 40% of the value sold in 2021 were frontlist and 60% were backlist. Most publishers (59%) saw increases in digital book revenue from 2020 to 2021. While small and mid-sized publishers saw the biggest increases, large publishers were the most likely to see decreases.
Where are Canadian publishers selling their e-books to consumers? The most popular e-book retailers were Amazon (76%), Kobo (71%), and Apple (68%). The rest of the channels include Barnes and Noble, Google Play Books and Scribd.
What about audiobook sales? For 28% of publishers, revenue from audiobook sales increased in 2021 when compared to 2020. This is especially true for large and mid-sized publishers — 43% of large publishers and 40% of mid-sized publishers reported increases in audiobook sales in 2021. By comparison, 20% of small publishers reported increases in revenue for audiobooks. Publishers across all sizes reported that audiobook revenue did not change from 2020 to 2021 — 14% of large publishers, 15% of small publishers, and 25% of mid-sized publishers.
In 2021, over half of Canadian publishers produced audiobooks (53%). Most publishers produced audiobooks with the help of a third-party provider (42%), but 19% had in-house facilities to do so. As you might expect, the majority of the in-house production was done by large publishers (43%), but 21% of mid-sized publishers and 15% of small publishers also did so. Since 2015, the number of publishers producing audiobooks either directly or through a partner has been increasing — from 16% in 2015, to 37% in 2016, and 61% in both 2017 and 2019.
In 2021, as in 2019, the most popular audiobook retailers for public-facing sales were Audible (40%), Apple (39%), and Amazon (37%). The rest of the retail channels include Kobo, Google Play Books, Scribd and audiobooks.com.
These statistics on digital book sales were courtesy of Booknet Canada, that recently conducted a survey. Most of the respondents, 65%, were small publishers with a 2021 gross revenue of under $1 million CDN. The remainder were made up of mid-sized publishers (26%) with revenue between $1M-$9,999,999 and large publishers (9%) with revenue of $10M or more. You can download the full report from the Booknet Website.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.