Union jack kindle

After reading carefully through Mark Coker’s piece on which US states read the most eBooks (Texas by volume, Alaska per capita) and combing through the Association of American Publishers recently released industry statistics (E-book net sales increased by 115.8% vs January 2010) I went on a far-flung Net hunt for worldwide eBook sales statistics. My aim in doing so was not merely to corroborate Coker’s findings that those in less-populated areas might buy more digital books, but also to satisfy my own curiosity on which countries–if any—out-read US eBook consumers. In this I was somewhat disappointed, as the global statistics gleaned were limited to numbers and percentages of overall figures, not broken down by area/province; it is nearly impossible to tell whether rural eBook reading is catching on.

The numbers, however, were fascinating in of themselves:

According to the Digital Content Association of Japan in 2010 Japanese consumers downloaded over seventy-three million dollars’ worth of digital books, magazines and newspapers. The Japan Book Publishers Association had posted rather rosy predictions for the eBook market in 2011, but this was all before the recent disasters. I could find no data stating from whence these books were purchased (urban, sub-urban or rural) but I suspect the avid readers in the study are city-based. Earlier this year I read a story about a Tokyo entrepreneur that solved a “space problem” involving his ittby-bitty apartment and a lovingly-garnered collection of over two-thousand paper books. After purchasing an iPad the man scanned all the volumes into digital prose and then sold his entire collection, earning enough to start a small business doing the same for interested parties among his fellow city-dwellers. Though some librarians would emit cries of anguish at the thought of hundreds replacing their personal libraries with an iPad, a few glances at the lack of shelf-space in the average Tokyo apartment would likely waylay any pro-paper arguments. Pro-digital proponents among my acquaintance emailed me on the Tokyo man’s project recently, pointing out that the action of converting paper to digital in Japan likely preserved a large quantity of literature from destruction… if the the devices themselves were saved.

France apparently harbors lackluckster eBook sales… up only part of a percent from last year, despite a marked—and delightfully vague–interest in Apple’s iPad. According to futurebook.net, French sellers/publishers care a great deal about pricing models: “… only a few French publishers have signed with [Apple] to sell books on agency terms. Amazon has not managed to obtain permission from French publishers to sell their e-books yet. One is also expecting telecom operators such as Orange to enter the market and to propose offers through subscription models. For all these reasons, French publishers have been working on a bill on fixed book price on e-books, in order to keep control over the prices of their books in the digital environment.” Other nations with similarly-marginal eBook sales are Italy and South Africa, and–as with France–doubts over unit prices and pricing models inhibits growth in those markets.

German consumers, however, are expected to “take an interest” in eBooks starting sometime this year though–as of yet–eBooks make up less than 1% of industry sales despite reports of “strong sales” of dedicated e-book reading devices and tablets. Online sources indicate that German publishers fear becoming marginalized by “direct relations between authors and retailers.”

American eBook buyers appear to have counterparts in the UK also hungry for digital prose. Thought in 2010 to be some two years behind the US eBook market in both dig-lit and device sales, the ability to download eBooks onto smart-phones appears to be shrinking the gap to the tune of a 600%-800% increase in digital book sales over last year.

The tantalizing UK market aside, American indie publishers and self-publishers may be overlooking the burgeoning eBook market in South Korea. According to the Korean Publishers Association Koreans purchased over one-hundred and seventy-six million dollars’ worth of ebooks last year, indicating that the market has been dominated by a relatively small number of e-book solution providers. They expect eBook sales to triple by 2013 and this mostly due to book distribution companies, e-book reader manufacturers and mobile phone companies jumping into the eBook fray. Translating an English-language book into Korean may set you back a bit of serious coin, but it might be worth it.

The Dutch may not read as many eBooks as the South Koreans but their sales numbers are nothing to sneeze at: last year approx 350,000 eBooks were purchased by avid readers in the Netherlands. Folks at the Dutch Publishing Association expect sales to double in 2011 as well as a growing interest in Espresso booking binding-like POD machines. Spain appears to harbor distinct eBook pessimism among publishers and distributors alike, despite the fact that consumers of that nation bought over seventy million dollars’ worth of digital literature last year.

The US market still tops the charts at $440 million dollars spent in Q1 2011, according to the Association of American Publishers. Future sales expectations flutter happily among the dark blotches of uncertainty hanging about; piracy appears to be the main threat to the expansion of the US eBook market… though format limitations, roller-coaster prices and DRM issues line up immediately behind, all waving consumer-generated flags which should not be ignored by anyone.

Via Meredith Greene’s Greene Ink blog


  1. The factors that contribute to such comparisons between countries/regions, e.g. the sheer availability (or not) of eBooks to buy, availability of eReaders, comparative depth of recession and price control (such as in France) make any meaningful conclusions very very limited.

  2. The problem in Spain is the editorials have arrived late to the e-book market, ereaders are mostly buyed by tech-savvie people (or people with access to this tech-savvie people who provide the ebooks for them) and it’s far more easier to find good spanish e-books properly formated from the darknet, provided by a lot of volunteers along this years since palm and PC reading, than to buy e-books, and there’s more variety, only some editorials started to sell e-books on July last year, volunteers have been scanning and correcting OCR books since 2000 (or earlier).

    A lot of Kindles have been sold in Spain, but Amazon is forbidden to enter the book-market here (not exactly forbidden, but I suppose they have the same problem as in France), the other e-books have not easy bookstore access as Kobo or Nook in the US, is all through Adobe Digital, and we know how tricky buying through Adobe can be.

    Prices doesn’t help either, is the same as in the US. An e-book cost the same or almost the same as a p-book (p-books have 4% VAT and e-books 18%, to make things worse)

    And there’s people like me, who have discovered that it’s not so difficult to read directly in english, and some spanish translations from english books are… best not mentioned, so we have switched to reading directly in English when we can, despite geographical restrictions, as a lot of SF fans can tell you.

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