Ebook Sales and Pricing Trends

For the past two years, BookNet Canada has been surveying Canadian consumers and closely tracking book buying behaviour. Recent reports in the U.S. have charted what is referred to as “an ebook growth slowdown” (source: DBW) where there has been gradual movement to less than double-digit annual growth of ebook sales. To investigate this situation in the Canadian market, we asked consumers how many books they purchased in 2012. We found that ebooks made up 15% of book purchases, and there was a steady decline in ebooks purchased over the course of the four quarters. Then, in 2013, we saw a slight increase and overall flattening of ebook sales. Ebook sales increased to an average of 17% of all book purchases.

One might assume that this upturn in the number of ebooks purchased was related to a decrease in ebook pricing. However, we found that consumers were actually paying more for their ebooks in 2013 than in 2012. They also paid the highest prices in the final quarter of 2013, which includes the holiday season—perhaps because people purchasing ebooks as gifts are less concerned about price point. Similarly, reports in the U.S. recorded a slight rise in the average price per ebook in 2013, to $7.20 (USD). 

It seems that consumers might be starting to see more value in paying for ebook content. Perhaps they have already exhausted the supply of free public domain ebooks and are now ready to start buying ebooks. It could also be that consumers are willing to pay for hot frontlist titles, now that many publishers are publishing titles in both print and ebook format at the same time. In addition, we’re also seeing an increase in the price that those consumers are willing to pay, which could also have to do with the new trend of ebooks being released simultaneously with print. Ebook prices for brand new titles tend to be above average, yet they are often still less expensive than their print counterparts.

Data collected in 2012 didn’t look good for the ebook market, but the 2013 data looks more promising. If you’re still hungry for more data and analysis on ebooks and other aspects of the book industry, keep an eye out later this spring for our 2013 consumer reports. Here’s a sneak peek of the covers: