This section contained four questions, designed to gather basic data on the health of respondents’ ebook businesses and publishers’ confidence levels in relation to future ebook sales:
When it came to revenue share, publishers overwhelmingly hewed to the lower end of the spectrum, with over half of publishers surveyed making less than 10% of their revenues from ebook sales. Interestingly, even within this first 10%, the same pattern was displayed, with a full 23% of respondents reporting less than 2% ebook revenue. At the other end of the spectrum, nearly 9% of respondents earned more than 50% of their revenues from ebooks. It should be noted that there were likely publishers operating at both ends of the spectrum: ebook-only publishers, and print-only publishers. Due to the design of my survey, it was not possible to break these categories out.
However, it was possible to examine the impact of fiction sales on some publishers' overall ebook revenues: publishers were divided into those reporting fiction operations and those reporting only non-fiction (including publishers of poetry and academic texts).
As can be seen in Figure 5a, publishers operating only in non-fiction categories were much less likely to make a significant proportion of their revenues from ebook sales. This result tends to corroborate other studies' findings that fiction sells better in ebook formats than non-fiction.
Given the small revenues discussed above, it is unsurprising that publishers are confident of ebook sales growth. Two thirds of publishers expect their sales to increase, and not a single respondent expected their ebook sales to contract in the coming year.
Interestingly, there is weak evidence to suggest that the higher a publisher’s ebook sales, they more likely they are to expect those sales to continue increasing.
When compared with data from Aptara’s 2012 report on the ebook market, which found that only one in five publishers was making over 10% of their revenue from ebooks, it is clear that the market has grown significantly in the past three years (2012, p. 1).
In 2013, John Oakes, publisher at American independent OR Books, told Publishers Weekly that he considered ebooks ‘God's gift to publishing’ and blamed some publishers’ disappointing ebook sales on their ‘imposing notions about how print sells onto ebooks’:
I don't see how you couldn't make money on ebooks, unless you insist on making the poor things bear the financial weight of all that goes into a print book. Once we've done the typesetting and design for the print model, it takes a few hundred dollars at most to transform that into a nifty ebook. Then: no returns; no warehousing; no shipping issues; barely any staff time overseeing the delivery of the little darlings. (Teicher, 2013)
A number of publishers surveyed in that piece discussed 10% of overall revenue as a target for their ebook sales.
The USA is the largest market for many publishers, with the UK the second most popular. When results are analysed in relation to publishers’ head offices, export trends can be inferred. Interestingly, the proportion of publishers whose largest export territory is the USA holds steady across the UK, Ireland, and Australia at just under half. Publishers are far more likely to export ebooks to the USA than the reverse.
Anecdotal evidence from my informal discussions with publishers suggests that reviewers and review outlets refuse to accept digital proofs, and it seems that this reluctance is borne out by evidence, with only 10% of respondents distributing proofs in digital format only. However, it seems possible that services like NetGalley are finding uses for small publishers alongside the distribution of traditional printed proofs, since the proportion of publishers distributing proofs in both print and digital formats is now equal to the proportion of publishers distributing print proofs only.