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Is the Canadian eBook Market Leveling Off?

Recent data shows that the ebook markets are growing in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere, but not curiously enough in Canada.

PW reported last Friday that BookNet, Canada’s leading book industry market research firm, had stopped surveying consumers on their ebook purchases:

BookNet’s Noah Genner says that BookNet has “paused” its consumer panel survey research on e-reading because the growth in digital books seems to have paused. “The numbers we’re hearing for e-book unit sales is still around 17%, 18%, 20%, that kind of range,” he says, noting that the rates vary considerably depending on genre. “We know for the genre categories inside fiction, some of [the rates of e-reading] are quite high.”

I personally have trouble believing that Canada has unique market conditions that would preclude further growth, not when the UK saw a 20% growth rate in 2013. On the other hand, it is worth noting that with 20% of consumers' book funds spent on ebooks, the Canadian ebook market is more mature than the UK market, where ebooks still made up less than 5% of sales in 2013.

What’s more, Booknet Canada has reported unusual market trends in the past, including extreme seasonal fluctuations. And what with Agency pricing still in effect in Canada, it’s entirely possible that the rigid price controls are depressing the market.

Perhaps Canada really is a special case. What do you think?

image  by archer10 (Dennis)

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Peter September 23, 2014 um 1:03 pm

Speaking for myself, I’ve completely stopped buying e-books from Canadian vendors (Kobo’s always been a disaster, but Agency price-fixing means I no longer buy from either).

I still buy just as many e-books as I ever did, but now I fire up my VPN and buy them from or the UK instead. This goes for pretty much everybody I know – the tech-savvy use a VPN, the less-savvy ask me to buy their books for them, do without, or just read what they can get from their local libraries.

Timothy Wilhoit September 23, 2014 um 1:03 pm

"…with Agency pricing still in effect in Canada, it’s entirely possible that the rigid price controls are depressing the market."

That has a great deal to do with depressing the e-book market. But, that’s the whole point of agency pricing, isn’t it?

Kate September 23, 2014 um 1:57 pm

Your first sentence is all subject and no verb. It’s not clear what’s happening, in Canada or elsewhere.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2014 um 2:05 pm

Whoops. Thanks.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) September 23, 2014 um 3:18 pm

I sell well on Kobo and, in fact, have seen rising book sales there. Most of my sales are shown as Canada and Australia. But my books don’t suffer from agency pricing and they are also couponable (Kobo does a trivia contest monthly and gives away e-readers and coupons.) Of course, the coupons don’t work with very many agency books, which might have something to do with my success.

I sell decently to Canada via Amazon–about the same as always.

I do think it possible that some people who live in Canada are "traveling" to buy their goods. Go where it’s cheaper and when you have price controls (Australia, Canada are big on book price controls) it only makes sense that people would try to shop elsewhere.

Anne September 23, 2014 um 3:30 pm

I think they’re incorrect or just ignorant of the fact that 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the border with the US. I work in a small border crossing town and estimate that 30% of my co-workers are Canadian citizens/residents. To the best of my knowledge every one of them has PO Box in town as well a US credit card.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the drop off is mostly because many Canadians gave Kobo a try, became frustrated and then said no more. Most, if not all of my coworkers seem to use the US Amazon store with their US credentials. The reasons they give are ease of use, pricing and geo-restrictions though I know some quit Kobo because of the application with the Competition Bureau.*

Speaking of geo-restrictions- A co-worker and I each purchased a basic kindle that are registered to her .ca account. We use them to buy ebooks available there and not in the US. Some of the smaller Canadian presses publish some lovely books but don’t seem to purchase the US rights.

With the above work around many Canadians can also get the newest hardware from the US. I heard that the local UPS store guy, who says more than 90% of his boxes are rented to Canadians, expects to have to pay some overtime once Amazon starts shipping the latest products. I wonder how many of them will be the Voyage which is currently backordered and not available in Canada?

* It looks like Kobo may have some more work to do in this matter? Hopefully someone can translate this stuff so people like me can understand it.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2014 um 3:35 pm


I hadn’t known that had been released. let me see what I can parse out.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2014 um 4:59 pm

I asked the CCB.

That doesn’t actually mean anything important. Agency is still going on in Canada, and Kobo’s appeal of the end of Agency will not be heard until May 2015.

Anne September 23, 2014 um 5:32 pm

Thank you for checking further. You did a fine job downsizing a 38 page document into one paragraph. I certainly wasn’t up to the task.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2014 um 5:38 pm

I couldn’t figure it out either, which is why I asked the CCB. If that hadn’t worked I was planning to pass this to Cader of PubMarketplace. I do believe he’s a lawyer, and could have been interested.

Thank you for linking to it; I’m working on a post.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2014 um 3:33 pm

I wasn’t sure whether to put this in the post, but here is what I think:

I find Booknet’s reason to stop the e-reading survey to be BS. The book market is relatively flat, and they didn’t stop those surveys, did they?

Noah Genner September 24, 2014 um 8:59 am

Some clarification perhaps.

'Paused', not 'stopped'. We are still doing consumer surveying, but just not our very large monthly consumer panel. The rate of change at this particular point didn’t warrant monthly surveying.

When we ask consumers what they are buying one of the questions we ask them is what format they purchased – and that is where the ebook percentages come from. We do not discriminate on where those purchases are made, so if a purchase is made from a US, or UK, e-tailer we still count it as an ebook purchase.

There will be more studies coming out shortly.

–Noah Genner

Agency eBook Pricing Will be Alive and Well in Canada Until at Least May 2015 – The Digital Reader September 23, 2014 um 6:24 pm

[…] comment left on my earlier post (thanks, Anne!) about the Canadian ebook market has revealed that, thanks to an appeal filed by Kobo, said market could be stuck in a pricing limbo […]

Steve Vernon September 24, 2014 um 6:00 am

It might be we Canadians are just easing off on all of that new-fangled e-reading because we’ve got more important things to do such as getting ready for the coming winter – stocking up on road salt and snow shovels and back liniment and such…


I mean, really, what’s the big deal about e-reading anyway? Hadn’t a person ought to be reading the whole darned alphabet – never mind reading that single lowly vowel "e"?

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