Nielsen: Big Five US eBook Sales Down in 2015

8562416557_0c60042aa8_hA few weeks back the American Association of Publisher reported that the major trade publishers saw steep declines in ebook revenue in 2015, and now market research firm Nielsen Bookscan is chiming in with similar data.

PW reports that Nielsen shares its latest stats at BEA 2016 this week:

Unit sales of e-books published by traditional publishers fell 13% in 2015 compared to 2014, said Kempton Mooney of Nielsen during a Thursday panel aimed at examining different publishing markets.

Units fell to 204 million from 234 million in 2014. The high point of e-book sales was 2013 when units totaled 242 million units. While e-book sales fell in the year, print units rose 2.8%, to 653 million. As a result, e-books’s market share of units dipped to 24% in 2015, down from 27% in 2014. Mooney observed that some of the gain in print sales was due to the extraordinary popularity of adult coloring books last year. The e-book sales figures came from about 400 traditional publishers, Mooney said.

Nielsen gets its ebook sales figures from Pubtrack Digital, a tracking service where publishers self-submit their revenue and sales data.

As I explained last year, Pubtrack Digital only covers about half of the US ebook market. Self-published ebooks, as well as a lot of the smaller indie publishers, simply aren't reflected in the data. (You can find a list of publishers that submit their data in this PDF.)

That's not a defect or problem with the data so much as a known limitation, but it does make me wonder how Nielsen came up with the following statements.

In another look at e-book sales, Mooney reported that the Big 5 publishers’ share of e-book sales fell to 34% in 2015, down from 38% in 2014. In 2012, the Big 5 held a 46% of e-book unit sales. The loss of share of the Big 5 was made up by self-publishers and small publishers. Self-publishers’ share of the e-book market rose to 12% last year from 8% in 2014, while small presses accounted for 30% of e-book unit sales in 2015, up from 26% in 2014.

While it's great that Nielsen isn't claiming that they track 85% of the US ebook market any more, I do wonder how they know the relative share.

I have asked, and I will update this post with Nielsen's explanation.

Edit: And here's Nielsen's explanation:

These self-published numbers are Nielsen Books & Consumers stats, where we survey 6,000 book buyers a month on their book buying behavior.  Our survey shows that 12% of all eBooks purchased in 2015 were self-published through an established service like Lulu or CreateSpace.

In the meantime, would anyone care to speculate?

image  by H. Michael Arrighi

About Nate Hoffelder (11588 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

3 Comments on Nielsen: Big Five US eBook Sales Down in 2015

  1. Ebooks selfpublished through Lulu or createspace?
    Isn’t createspace about POD instead of ebooks?
    And Lulu a feeder for Author Solutions?

    I’m not putting much stock in that explanation.
    Now, if they were quoting Author Earnings…

  2. What consumers say in surveys…I will trust a more methodical Author Earnings.

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