The latest eMarketer data on U.S. e-reader usage – already covered by Chris Meadows – provides some interesting perspective on those much-vaunted Association of American Publishers (AAP) figures showing a static U.S. ebook market. Because, if dedicated e-readers really have held their ground against generic tablets in the U.S., and are still growing their user numbers, then how come AAP is reporting a static or shrinking ebook market?
eMarketer hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about the methodology behind its latest e-reader usage figures, mind. According to its past statements, “eMarketer analyzes figures collected from many research sources to develop its forecasting models. This means that our clients are able to make decisions based on estimates that take into account all the available research perspectives and data sets about a topic, rather than place bets based on numbers that solely represent one analyst’s or research company’s opinion.” But they haven’t given detailed validation for the e-reader survey in the materials I can access, anyway. So it’s worth remembering that level of uncertainty.
All the same, if eMarketer‘s data is to be believed, 26 percent of the U.S. population and 32.1 percent of U.S. internet users are using dedicated ebook readers, figures forecast to rise to 28 percent and 33.6 percent respectively by 2020. That means an expected 93.7 million users of dedicated e-reading devices by 2020 – which means, almost 100 million U.S. ebook readers, right? After all, what the hell else are they supposed to be doing with those devices?
Now, AAP reported an 11 percent decline in ebook revenue for its 1,200 members for Jan-Sep 2015 in its January 27, 2016 AAP StatShot. One interpretation of this is that AAP publishers have managed to turn at least a 4.2 percent ebook user growth, as recorded by eMarketer in 2015, into an 11 percent revenue decline. And that’s not counting the ebook readers in the broader tablet and smartphone market – but then the eMarketer e-reader category is at least one we can assume must be using its devices for … um … e-reading.
Again, because this bears repeating: eMarketer data suggests that the U.S. ebook market must be growing at at least 4.2 percent (for 2015), though tapering down to 1.6 percent, by 2020. By which time, there will be at least some 100 million U.S. ebook readers. And again, this bears emphasizing: Those people are dedicated readers. They have shelled out for an expensive device that is good for almost nothing except e-reading. And all that AAP seems to be able to do with that audience is shrink their cut of it by at least 10 percent a year.
It isn’t only AAP data that gets cast in an unflattering light by that eMarketer info, though. Look at Publishers Weekly, using Nielsen Books & Consumers numbers to report on the state of the ebook market at the beginning of this year. According to Nielsen and PW, now, “e-books’ market share peaked at 24 percent in the first quarter of 2014 but has not been over 20 percent since the second quarter of that year.” In a year when eMarketer says that e-reader user numbers grew by 8.7 percent? Hardly much sign of the “saturation of digital devices in the market” that PW blames for this supposed decline.
More objective reporting from PEW Research Center suggests that ebook readership is in fact far closer to the numbers reported by eMarketer. The PEW report on American reading habits from October 2015 states that around 27 percent of Americans read at least one ebook in the past 12 months, compared to the 72 percent who read a book of any kind. And yet again, it’s worth reiterating that the 26 percent of Americans who use an e-reader in 2015 have made a strong material commitment to sustained ebook reading.
And who’s picking up the difference in ebook sales? No prizes for guessing it’s Amazon and self-published authors. At least, that’s what the latest AuthorEarnings report would suggest. And it looks like we might now have some independent corroboration of those. By their e-readers shall ye know them …