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eBooks Made Up 12% of ISBNs Registered in the US in 2011

Late last week Amazon announced a Spanish language Kindle Store for the US and world market. Neat story, and I followed it up that with a short post about the 25% of Spanish ISBNs that went to ebooks in March.

I promised at the time that I would try to get some figures for the US market. I thought it would be good to give the Spanish numbers some context, but it took my friend’s contact at Bowker until Monday to get the numbers from their files.  And thus this footnote is a separate post. (For the first time ever, the footnote to one of my posts is getting its own footnote.)

I don’t have data as detailed as the Spanish ISBN agency released, but I do have a figure for the US market.

There were a total of 1,555,790 ISBNs assigned to book products (ebooks, audiobooks, print books, and some video) in 2011 (that Bowker knows of – not all publishers report back to Bowker what they assign).

Of those, 183,183 were assigned to ebooks. Which is 11.77%.

The curious detail about this is that in 2011 the Spanish market saw around 17% of ISBNs be assigned to ebooks. So that leads to the obvious conclusion that the Spanish  ebook market is growing faster, right?

No, and that’s where this gets interesting. I was told, long before I got the 12% figure, that the number would be worthless. ISBN registration in the US book market is distorted by a couple of factors so the registrations don’t reflect the real number of titles being released.

The main reason for the 12% figure was that some POD publishers have been basically (as I see it) spam registering ISBNs for all the POD editions of all the public domain books they print. These aren’t necessarily new books, and TBH it would be a stretch to describe them as being actually in print. But the ISBNs are being registered.

So while I can say that the Spanish ebook market is growing as a percentage of the total Spanish book market, I really don’t know how it compares to the US market.

Thanks to LJN Dawson for asking Bowker!

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karen wester newton April 10, 2012 um 10:32 am

It’s really hard to assess how many new books are coming out because of the requirement that every format get its own ISBN. That’s even true in ebooks, where the EPUB version gets one ISBN and the Kindle version gets another!

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