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The ebook revolution

26 September 2011

A new Harris poll has revealed that the number of Americans reading ebooks has doubled in the last year. One in six Americans who do not have an ebook reader are planning to buy one in the next year.

Interestingly, the top genres among e-book owners are crime and thriller (47%), science fiction (25%), literature (23%) and romance (23%). In non-fiction, biography is most popular (29%), then history (27%) and religion and spirituality (24%). So these are books with a strong narrative component. There's also evidence that ebook buyers are buying more books, which may be because they are heavy readers and find the means of acquiring ebooks easy and fast.

The report said: "There will always be a place for books in hard cover or paperback. But there must also be a place for reading devices as well. Readers are quickly catching on to this wave as have the booksellers. This is a huge transition time for publishing companies and how they adapt will determine who is still standing 10 years from now."

In the UK one in five publishers is now generating more than 10% of their revenue from ebooks. 85% of publishers across all areas are producing print and e-book versions of their titles, but trade publishers in particular are now a driving force in the ebooks market, adopting "at a faster rate than any other type of book publisher". The percentage of trade publishers producing ebooks has risen from 50% to 76% in two years.

This really does amount to a revolution, but no-one really knows how far it will go. Are ebooks going to take over the whole market? Well, some commentators think so. But others think that there's been a strong early adopter influence, with people buying the ereader device and then buying the ebooks to put on it. The generally lower price of ebooks and their relatively early availability have been factors here.

The success of the Kindle, both as Amazon's bestselling item and as opening up the market, should not be underestimated. The rapid growth of ebooks, mostly sold through the Kindle, has substantially increased the online retailer's dominance of the market.

The figures above also suggest that it's readers of commercial genre fiction who are leading the charge, many of them people who read a great deal and see the ebook as a convenient way to provide new reading material and acquire books more cheaply.

For authors this is still a revolution in the making. The greater opportunities for ebooks should be seen as a potential advantage, but there is also a real concern that authors will lose out in terms of royalties. The argument over ebook royalties, which publishers would like to peg at 25% but agents would like to see at 50% or more, is far from over yet.