Toronto’s Globe and Mail incited the next book digital publishing debate on Friday with the speculation that (in Canada) ebooks might not go through the expected post-Christmas rush.
As we know from the past seven years of sales cycles, during each holiday print book sales tend to peak before Christmas as people buy books to give as gifts, while ebook sales tend to spike after Christmas as consumers buy ebooks to fill up their ereaders.
But this year G&T thinks that Canadians might not see that spike, because:
First, e-book sales have been flat for the past 18 months to two years, according to Noah Genner, CEO of BookNet Canada, which tracks about 85 per cent of Canada’s book sales. Mr. Genner pegs e-book sales at about 17 per cent or 18 per cent of Canada’s book market. Second, the post-Christmas boost is under threat.
“The phenomenon of the e-book sales booming right after Christmas, that’s going to go away,” says Mike Shatzkin, a New York-based publishing consultant with 50 years’ experience in the book business. He notes sales of stand-alone e-reader devices have been growing more slowly in recent years as more people use their phone or tablet for reading.
“It’s a pipeline effect; people buy a lot more when they are new customers,” Mr. Shatzkin says. “You have three favourite books that you want to have on your device, you have the next three books you want to read, you have a couple that you may want as reference. At some point, your purchasing slows down to be approximately the same speed as your consumption.”
I was prepared to mock this baseless report mercilessly, but the fact is this might happen.
Oh, Shatzkin is utterly wrong on the point of consumer ebook buying behavior (in my experience, buying has little to do with consumption), and I have no info on the completeness or accuracy of Booknet’s data collection, but Shatzkin is not wrong when he mentions that ereader sales are down from their peak a couple years back.
Everyone who wants an ereader has one, and everyone else is getting a smartphone or tablet. And with fewer ereaders sold, that means fewer opened on Christmas morning and fewer additional ebook buyers contributing to the post-Christmas boom.
On the other hand, people who buy books are still people who buy books, and the ones that you used to give a book as a gift now ask that you to give them a gift card so they can buy ebooks.
And when do they get those gift cards? On Christmas morning, which means they’ll be buying those ebooks as part of the post-Christmas boom.
In short, we might or might not have an ebook boom in the next few weeks, but I think it’s really too early to say. There’s just not enough substance to the topic to argue one way or another, so I am going to wait for the data before taking a side.
But don’t let that stop the debate; do you think the boom is still going to occur?
P.S. Speaking of data, one of the points I plan to look into is Booknet’s ebook sales data. They say they track 85% of print book sales in retail channels in Canada, but from what I can discern their ebook data comes from consumer surveys, which are only as accurate as the survey group selection process.
image by bargainmoose