digital growth

The Digital Book Consumer Book Barometer, initiated in 2018 by “Reedier Wischenbart Content and Consulting”, provides information on sales and consumer developments in the eBook and audiobook segments. 

The current edition of this report, published in June 2022, is based on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the consumption of eBooks and audiobooks.

Over the past two years, there has been notable growth across all segments of the digital book market, led especially by audiobook consumption, with streaming showing the largest increase.

However, quantitative aspects only reveal part of the dynamics that point to very powerful changes in digital consumption.

The New “Multiverse” of the Book

When ebooks gained popularity among the reading public, they were often considered another format of the book, along with hardcover and paperback editions.

But in recent years, it has become increasingly evident that “digital books” are much more than that. 

Various electronic formats can be found (especially ebooks and audiobooks), which are distributed through various digital channels – and, generally, without any type of physical support – through a series of different business models. These include sales of downloads of individual titles as well as subscription and streaming services or online borrowing provided by libraries.

In the spring of 2020, when Covid-19 forced bookstores and other unneeded outlets to close for weeks and months, along with schools, and a significant portion of the workforce working from home. The electronic use of books in any form saw an instant spike that proved massive.

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The “digital consumption” label includes both the purchase of physical books on e-commerce platforms, as well as the online distribution of any library content.

In 2022, it has become clear that the impact of the pandemic has caused numerous changes and transformations that are here to stay.

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Digital Growth Continues to Advance

The evolution of e-book sales from a multi-year perspective, especially if measured by the number of units consumed (or volume), reveals an underlying growth pattern that had already experienced a cautious rebound in 2019. 

Shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by a sharp spike in the number of e-books sold. Followed by a sharp spike in the number of e-books sold, followed by a sharp spike in the number of units consumed (or volume). 

This was followed by a sharp spike in the number of e-books sold, followed by a sharp spike in the number of units consumed (or volume) in 2Ḥ020.

The key question for 2021 was, therefore, if that rebound, driven especially by physical bookstore closures in the second and third quarters, would be a short-lived exception, or a more resistant trend.

Sales data from a series of markets as diverse as Italy, German-speaking markets (including Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland), Brazil, and Spanish-speaking markets (including Spain and much of the Hispanic Americas), strongly indicate the latter. Digital growth, accelerated by the pandemic, seems to be here to stay.

Although there was a relative decrease in 2021 compared to 2020, the declared sales are mostly much higher than before the pandemic. When broken down by quarter, a fairly stable sales level is observed throughout

‍Digital reading habits have experienced several dynamics in recent years that point to a deeper change, not only on the part of readers who adopt electronic formats but, perhaps more relevant, due to different business models. and access.

Before the pandemic, several major sellers had begun to increase the promotion of online content to consumers, such as e-books, audiobooks, or podcasts. Consumers seemed to be open to change towards new practices.

Public libraries, whose “library card” system has some similarities to subscriptions, seemed to be more cautious at first.

But in 2020, libraries significantly increased their e-book purchases, with a focus on educational books in 2020 and 2021, resulting in commercial gains for the respective scientific, professional, and educational publishers.
At first, eBooks had earned a reputation for being popular only in a few genre categories that favored easy entertainment, such as romance, fantasy, or science fiction. As a direct consequence, most of the consumption occurred in very low-price offers. Now, however, average prices have increased.

The digital growth of recent years has meant a clear expansion of the catalogs of available titles, which have become more representative of the entire book spectrum and, therefore, consumption has diversified.

Confinement has transformed the habits of discovery and consumption of cultural, entertainment, and information content, and has turned millions of people into new users of all types of subscription platforms. 

In addition to the change in consumption habits, the offer is immense, and the increase in the concentration of audiovisual content platforms. Not only this but, the constant incorporation of new and more specialized ones, normalized subscription consumption in all its formats; including, of course, the editorial.

Digital Growth Global Overview Report 2023

Subtitle: Digital Growth Global Overview Report 2023

The Evolution of the eBook Market in Spanish

Within the Spanish and Latin American market, every day more publishers are strongly betting on the distribution of their books in digital format to reach readers around the world. 

Below we can better understand, based on the data provided by the report, what the particularities of each region are to better understand the market.

Relevant data for Spain and Latin America

Both general novels and detective stories are the winning genre categories in the consumption of eBooks in the Spanish language in recent years.

  • Non-fiction titles have a higher representation compared to German language markets.
  • Slight increase in the children’s and youth category, since it could open a new audience segment for digital reading.
  • Educational materials have not made their way into user purchases so far, but they are in great demand in libraries.
  • Titles sell only shortly after their release or may gain lasting popularity among the public.
  • Publishers can positively influence a long life cycle by encouraging pre-orders for a title, something many Spanish-language publishers have learned during the pandemic.

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Relevant Data for Mexico

Romantic fiction has lost ground in favor of general fiction and, even more so, nonfiction and educational books.

Mexico is a market in which digital books have arrived relatively late and at low global levels. But during 2021 and according to the results of the first quarter of 2022, a new “normal” is observed – significantly higher than previous years – in the consumption of electronic books.

Digital growth was even more dramatic, with huge gains in subscription, which had already started to gain traction in 2019, before the pandemic, then leveling off once consumers had learned to appreciate the new “access”-driven offering. “.

In 2018, digital reading in Mexico was an almost exclusive niche for the quick and slow consumption of romantic stories. As the digital market advanced, other genre categories expanded their participation, so that at the beginning of 2022, Romance accounted for only a quarter of ebook consumption by sales volume.

Other categories, particularly education, and nonfiction (which together include significant amounts of self-improvement and self-help titles), as well as general fiction, could expand.

An increasingly diverse digital market is observed, with different economic profiles for each gender category.

Relevant Data for Brazil

In recent years, Brazil has witnessed the strong and continuous emergence of a digital book sector, with the pandemic as a powerful accelerator. The most striking element, however, is the dynamic behind a rapid expansion of forms of delivery and consumption other than “download sales” of one title at a time.

In e-books, and even more so in audiobooks, growth is determined by a mix of subscription and streaming.
Although all fiction has seen some advances recently, the combined categories of nonfiction and education are predominant, which should be viewed with some distinction: religious books stand out, as well as those about self-improvement and self-help.

When analyzed by sales volume, low-cost offers enjoy the greatest popularity. However, the revenue generated also comes from higher-priced books.

Now with the data from the first quarter of 2022, we can confirm that the eBook market continues to grow. This is mainly due to the growth of the subscription model, which has increased the number of readers in Spain and, in parallel, the rise in consumption of this model in Mexico.

The last few years have been a challenge for both consumers and companies. Content creators have had to adapt to a new normal that involved a change in structure and content, and books and brands, which were once purely textual tools, have had to adapt to new circumstances. 

We must accompany the changes by providing tools that facilitate adaptation and improve the functions.

Editorial Board
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