The State of Today’s Book Marketplace, Part 2: Consumer Preferences & Digital Discovery

September 13, 2022
Ruth Jones
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The State of Today’s Book Marketplace, Part 2: Consumer Preferences & Digital Discovery

Just like the market, consumers are not static. They’re susceptible to change, ebbing and flowing due to circumstances out of their control while adapting to a shifting environment. Traits such as consumer behaviors, researching habits, and even costumer values are evolving over time as supply chain issues persist, and we’ve seen just that in the past year or two.

 

Changes in Consumer Preferences 

According to a PwC Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey (Dec. 21’), consumers care more about sustainability than ever before, with “Fifty-two percent of respondents say they are more eco-friendly than they were six months ago…up by 2 percentage points since [the] June 2021 Pulse survey.”

 

Many consumers had moments during lockdown where they started to care about these issues, and they're making choices when buying certain products over others to ensure that they are sustainable. This heightened concern for being eco-friendly profoundly impacts business across the board when we start to think about the sustainability of our products and services.

This shift in importance plays into how producers and distributors of books start to think about their distribution footprint, the materials they use, and how we tell our consumers the efforts that we're making as organizations towards carbon neutrality.

Many book publishers are very committed to it, but it's interesting to see how the shift to online mixed with the heightened awareness of sustainability started to flow through. That's something we see at Ingram as central to some of the changes needed in a resource-constrained marketplace.

The Push to Digital

There's no question that the pandemic led to a significant increase in online book sales. There was a large migration toward digital as lockdowns came, and people could only consume book content through online platforms. That said, they are increasing year over year.  

Not always easy to get to, there's a lot of hidden data around ebooks and audio books.

  •       Experts agree that ebooks have increased by 10% year over year
  •       Even more astonishing is audiobook, which has had a 71% increase

Audiobook consumption went up as people became more used to listening to books during the lockdowns. That rise went hand in hand with the rise of smart speakers and the popularity of podcasts.

While ebooks can sometimes be seen as an alternative to print, ebooks and audiobooks can play hand and hand without cannibalizing each other. When it comes to audiobooks, it's about the portability and the ability to listen while cooking, driving, jogging, cleaning, or any other task that does not require your full attention.  

Publishing books in all formats simultaneously can lead to demonstrable increases in discoverability on online platforms. As consumers move online, you want to make sure that your titles are visible wherever they are browsing for books. Whether it's ebook, audiobooks, hardcover, paperback, or large print, each of these formats contributes to the algorithms and search bots that help consumers find your titles.

Text to Speech

When Google launched its text-to-speech estimates, there was a lot of focus on the fact that roughly 90% of available print catalogs are not available in audio. The reasons for this were cost, narration, production, and the supply chain.

For Publishers, text-to-speech and AI narration are still worth considering. Especially now that Google recently announced they've got over 35 narrative voices in English and Spanish. This creates an excellent opportunity for publishers to start digitizing their back catalog—taking full advantage of a growing market of individuals who want to listen to books.

Environmental Impact

Anecdotally, the environmental impact of an ebook is much better than print due to no transportation costs. However, we must acknowledge that all devices used to obtain and read ebooks do have an impact through the use of minerals to make such devices and the need for recycling.

That said, there's been a lot of work done on the equivalents, and it turns out one print book has the same environmental impact as several hundred ebooks.

Digital Discovery: The New Normal

There's a move towards globalization that has no intention of stopping. 

  • Streaming services from Nordic countries are acquiring US customer bases 
  • Storytel is buying audiobooks.com
  • Spotify is acquiring Findaway

There's a blending of competition all fighting for your ear and the way that audiobook scan sit alongside streaming music and podcasts. 

In terms of libraries, OverDrive topped half a billion ebook and audiobook downloads in 2021.

Of the library systems that reached the one million-plus milestone for downloads:

  • Toronto has 9 million downloads 
  • Los Angeles has 8 million downloads 
  • Singapore National Library has 8 million downloads

This shows that libraries have driven digital consumption and continue to do so.

Getting to the Real Data

Though traditional tracking may say otherwise, ebook sales are up overall. While theAAP, which does not track self-published ebooks, reported a 4.7% drop in mainstream ebook revenues, Kindle Unlimited had a 450.1 million dollar payout to self-published ebook authors. This was a 19% increase over 2020. [RK1] 

This lets you know that when we typically look at the ebook marketplace, it isn't entirely represented by all the numbers upfront. 

According to Storytel, total streaming revenue hit 74 million in Q1 of 2021. If we were to break that down roughly, $48 million came from the Nordics, and the other $25 million came from Storytel markets.

Due to these sales, the non-Nordics revenue jumped an impressive 108%. Still, the numbers lose some of that stature when we factor in the newly acquired US operation Audiobooks.com, which contributed $8.6 million of that $25 million Q1non-Nordics revenue.

Customer Curation and Consumption

One of the biggest challenges we now have is big data. How do we consume it? How do we know when we're doing well? How do we benchmark ourselves against our competitors, whether they're co-publishers, streaming platforms, or other entertainment platforms?

Even if the consumed products are not digital, the book supply chain is digital. People often struggle with this concept. Our communications to the marketplace and placing of products are heading towards the consumer market. That market continues to support B2B, but this is about machine-to-machine communication, and it goes beyond metadata.

  •       It’s about the agile engagement with the marketplace.
  •       It's understanding the feedback mechanisms that we have and then being able to reengage on a cyclical process to really jumpstart consumer engagement with our titles.

Gone are the days of visiting one bookseller and saying, "I'm done now becauseI've talked to the biggest bookseller in the region, and they're going to stock my books."

We now have a global marketplace but a lot more competition. And so digital discovery and social interaction are what you need as part of your armory. As you start to grapple with the supply chain issues and changing consumer behaviors, look at how you might address global and local supply chain peaks and troughs that don't always come with the availability of resources.

The State of Today’s Book Marketplace, Part 2: Consumer Preferences & Digital Discovery
Ruth Jones

Ruth Jones

Ruth Jones is Director of Global Sales and Digital Services at Ingram Content Group UK, a leader in distribution, print-on-demand and digital solutions. She is responsible for developing digital markets and services outside of North America. Ruth has over 20 years’ experience in the publishing, library and electronic information industries. She joined Ingram from the British Library where she was Head of Product Development, responsible for the development of information products and services.

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