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New Survey Shows eBook Buyers in the UK Outnumber Pirates By Fourteen to one

15455219752_9d15050462_bThe aggressive/hoarder ebook pirate is often held up as the boogeyman of authors and publishers but that individual is rarer than you might think.

A new report (PDF) released this month by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) showed that ebooks were the one type media least likely to be pirated. Coincidentally, the report also showed that casual pirates tended to spend more than non-pirates (this confirms a similar report from Australia covered by Techdirt on Thursday). The UK conclusion can’t specifically be applied to ebooks, though, just other digital media including music, videos, and apps.

But what I can tell you about ebooks is that the hardcore pirate accounted for about 6% of ebook users. The vast majority (89%) acquired their ebooks legally:

ipo piracy report

Piracy is in fact less of an issue than the other author who is competing for the attention of readers, including the ones who give away their books for free. In fact, ebook pirates are outnumbered by freegans (readers whose ebooks are legal, but none are paid for) by a factor of five to one.

31% of respondents in this survey don’t buy any ebooks at all:

ipo piracy report

Free ebooks are so prevalent that a later section of the report estimated that 57% of ebooks were paid for – but only 6% were pirated.

The report also estimated that paper books still made up 65% of the total number of books consumed in the UK, which is itself an interesting statistic. Books are the one type of media that is still primarily consumed on physical media. Music, video, apps, and games have all gone primary digital.

Do you know how some pundits are now saying that ebooks have hit a plateau?

Assuming consumers develop the same preference for digital books that they currently show for other digital media, I would not assume that plateau is going to last.

P.S. The UK Publishers Association said that ebooks accounted for around 17% of the total sales volume (in pounds) in the UK in 2014.  Does anyone have data from the PA on the number of ebooks sold in the UK last year? I’d like to cross-check with the consumer survey.


image by JD Hancock

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fjtorres July 23, 2015 um 3:00 pm

0ne way tradpub tries to minimize ebook importance is by focusing on reader-spend instead of units sold.

As for how the UK market behaves you may not have long to wait.
Enough people have already asked Data Guy about it. He didn’t say yes.
It was more of a hmmm… 🙂

Nirmala July 23, 2015 um 5:58 pm

I just posted the following comment over on the May report on Authroearnings questioning the overall impact of legal free ebooks on Amazon and other ebookstores on the net shift in reading habits from paper to digital:

"Hi Hugh and Data Guy, Just wondered if you might sometime take a look at another potentially huge “shadow industry” in ebook downloads, and that is the tremendous number of free ebooks downloaded every day on Amazon. The free downloads have no direct effect on author earnings except when they take the place of a sale, an yet the free downloads must be having an effect on the overall purchasing habits of ebook users. The equivalent in paper book sales are library books borrowed, but Amazon has made the acquisition of a free ebook even easier than a trip to the local library.

Recently, my wife, Gina Lake, and I did Bookbub promotions of free ebooks (one was permafree and the other was free under a Select promotion) and in both cases our books had over 30,000 downloads in a short amount of time. Yesterday, my wife’s free ebook was downloaded 21,000 times and yet only made it to a top rank that day of 5 among free ebooks in the overall Kindle store. That suggests that a whole heck of a lot of ebooks are being downloaded for free every day on Amazon which probably cuts into the sales of both indie books and traditional books.

I do not want to start an argument about whether it is a good idea to give away free ebooks as everyone has their own reasons for doing so or not, and it can still be a powerful tool for promotion. But I am curious when that many free ebooks are going out the door every day on Amazon, what effect that has on the overall market. Is the ease with which ebooks can be given away for free changing readers behavior and perhaps resulting in a bigger shift to digital reading than is recognized by simply measuring sales of ebooks? Again, maybe it is another form of shadow industry, albeit a very non-lucrative one 🙂

The switch to digital reading is also transforming public libraries ( ), but it seems that the ease with which authors can now give away their ebooks on Amazon and other ebookstores is also likely accelerating the prevalence of ereading.

I could see how this may be way beyond the scope of your reports, but it is still interesting to ponder in the context of the whole ebook revolution. This phenomenon of truly free books is seemingly new. Library books, including library ebooks, are still paid for when the library first purchases them. For readers, this is more like the little “free” table outside my local library where they give away a handful of books, but on Amazon, the “free table” is now huge!"

fjtorres July 23, 2015 um 6:37 pm

Free ebooks are not too different from samples, just longer. Especially considering how many are series titles.

Two points come to mind: a lot of free books never get opened, much less finished. No investment in them. Impact: minimal.

They can also be considered substitutes for pirate editions to some extent, even if they get read.

So yes, they do have some impact on sales but I don’t think anybody this side of amazon knows how many are read and how many of those reads do or don’t lead to further sales.

Nirmala July 23, 2015 um 7:25 pm

All good points, especially about how many free ebooks never get opened, although that happens also with paid ebooks, especially low priced ones. And also how a free ebook often would never have been purchased anyways, as is often true with pirated ebooks.

And as you say, there may not be enough available data to ever really quantify the effect of free ebooks overall on people’s reading habits, but with probably hundreds of thousands of free ebooks going out the door every day just on Amazon, there is definitely going to be an effect. At the very least, it is an advantage of ebooks that paper books cannot compete with for the most part (except in a more limited way through libraries), which could encourage more digital reading overall as time passes . Most physical bookstores do not let you walk out with an entire book as a free sample 🙂 Whereas Amazon effectively does that a lot every day with ebooks.

I was surprised at how many downloads (21,000) it took to get to #5 on the free list, and that was with a bit of a head start, as the day before the Bookbub promotion, we did some other promotion, and so that book was already sitting at about 48 on the Kindle free list. According to Theresa Ragan’s chart, #5 on the paid list means selling only about 3000 books a day. Even if a lot of those free ebooks are never read, the sheer volume may make up for the lesser rate of engagement

fjtorres July 23, 2015 um 8:31 pm

There is an effect, no question.
But it’s mixed. And probably smaller than traditionalists would like us to believe.

Anyway, Amazon doesn’t really like permafree and if they could, they’d probably abolish it. Free promos are a marketing tool but those millions of free ebooks each year do cost Amazon some money to deliver and don’t generate any direct income.
(Which might just happen as KU matures.)
A couple years back they went after affiliate web sites that made money out of nothing but listing free ebooks.

Considering that Amazon probably has some 40-50M Kindle accounts if each account averaged one freebie a month that would add up to half a billion freebies. That’s a lot of pennies regardless of how little it costs to deliver them.

Nirmala July 23, 2015 um 9:46 pm

Again, very good points. I would not be surprised if Amazon closed the permafree loophole at some point. In the meantime, it is probably helping fuel the shift to digital reading which is clearly a long term goal for Amazon.

It also would not surprise me if someone at Amazon figured out a way to monetize free ebooks. Joe Konrath has something like that up his sleeve, so maybe Amazon will do something similar, although I still have no idea what that would be. Maybe in-book ads. If Amazon shared the revenue with authors, it could be a win/win all around. How much could a reader complain if they were getting the book for free?

kariss July 24, 2015 um 4:47 am

ebooks in the UK are just generally cheaper than in the US, I wonder if this has an impact?

News & Notes – 7/25/15 | The Bookwyrm's Hoard July 25, 2015 um 12:20 pm

[…] New Survey Shows eBook Buyers in the UK Outnumber Pirates By Fourteen to One (The Digital Reader, citing a British survey) […]

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