When it comes to self-published e-books and print titles, it is hard to capture any meaningful data. Jonathan Stolper of Nielsen gave a talk at this years Frankfurt Book Fair and dropped a bombshell. Self-Published books account for 18% of the total volume of sales in the United States.
Nielsen’s data sometimes gets a bad rep in the indie author community because they only report on book sales that have an ISBN number and many self-publishers cannot be bothered to buy one. These books are relegated to the shadow realm where nobody can accurately report on their sales.
According to Nielsen’s data, from Q1 2014 to Q1 2015, self-published books have grown from 14% to 18% of the overall market. In that same period the Big Five’s share has grown from 28% to 37%. Meanwhile, the rest of the market — all the large, medium, and tiny publishers — have seen their share decrease from 58% to 45%.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Nielsen discussion had to do with e-book pricing. According to Nielsen’s consumer survey, almost 60% of respondents said they’d choose an e-book over a print edition if the savings amounted to $4. Additionally, approximately 50% said they’d do the same even if the e-book is only $2-3 cheaper than the print version.
I have been reporting extensively about the rising cost of digital and how major publishers in the last six months have seen declining revenue. Customers are simply buying less books because they are far too expensive. Jonathan echoed my sentiments by telling the audience that publishers are “gently nudging customers back to print.”
The last piece of data Nielsen shared had to do with the e-book subscription market. This is a key segment in publishing that has been getting a lot of media attention, but scant details. Nielsen has stated that only 5% of US consumers have signed up for any e-book subscription solution, so the market remains small. Kindle Unlimited led the way with the largest chunk of market share, jumping from approximately 40% in January 2015 to almost 60% in April. Scribd and Oyster were tiny players by comparison in that period, and they’re only getting smaller.
Nielsen is right about the e-book subscription market being very small. This has resulted in Oyster, Entitle and others to shut their doors and to bow out of the market. There simply isn’t enough revenue to be made by offering unlimited packages. This is why Scribd has severely cut back on their romance catalog and stopped offering unlimited audiobooks.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.