We have recently completed a survey of 198 publishing firms in Sweden who are members of either the Swedish Publishers’ Association or the Nordic Independent Publishers’ Association. One hundred and ten companies responded, giving a response rate of 55%, with the smaller companies (often consisting of only one or two persons) less likely to respond. The resulting data can be compared with that of ‘Global e-book. A report on market trends and developments’ (2013), which surveyed members of only the Swedish Publishers’ Association. ‘Global e-book’ reported, for example, a total of some 4,500 e-books having been published, while our estimate is a total of over 10,000, with a significant number of firms producing fewer than ten e-books, but with three or four producing more than 2,000. We also see shifts of different kinds, e.g., one company reports that all of its output is published in print and in electronic format, while another reports having started with e-book production, but turning to printed book production because, ‘We make no money from e-books’.
The dominant e-book format is EPUB, often together with PDF, with other formats having been used by only a small number of firms.
The majority of respondents expressed the opinion that the growth in the market for e-books would continue to be as slow as at present, seeing the main barrier to growth as being the readers’ preference for printed books. On the other hand, they saw the main stimulus for growth as being the readers’ preference for a convenient, portable format. The main influence on publishers’ policies with regard to e-books was seen to be the public library user. This is not surprising, given that public libraries in Sweden constitute the major part of the market for books in general and for e-books in particular. If the present problems associated with the eLib platform can be resolved and a new model for e-lending, which satisfies all parties, can be devised, the e-lending element of the market will probably attain even greater significance. (Data from the Royal Library show that e-loans in public libraries have risen from 183,000 in 2008 to 1,524,234 in 2013.)
Self-publishing has reached ‘interesting’ proportions in the USA, and respondents were asked what effect this might have on their own activities. The result is shown in the figure below.
A degree of ambivalence seems to exist about the relations between publishers and booksellers and between publishers and public libraries, in respect of e-books. Fifty percent of respondents felt that bookshops would continue to play a role in selling both printed books and e-books, but, at the same time (respondents could choose more than one option) some 60% believed that the role of the bookshop would decline as e-book sales increased, and more than 50% believed that direct selling by publishers would also contribute to the decline.
In relation to libraries, more than 60% thought that e-books ought to be sold to them on the same basis as printed books, but more than 50% (again, more than one choice was allowed) thought that the number of loans ought to be restricted and almost 50% thought that e-books ought to be priced higher to libraries than to individual readers.
The survey has been useful in establishing the current state of opinion on these matters and we plan further interviews with publishers who have agreed to participate to gain further, detailed information on the reasons for their views. We also plan to re-run the survey before the end of the project, to see how opinions may have shifted over a couple of years.
A report on the survey will be sent out next week to the respondents and, once that is done, it will be available to others in Swedish or English. I shall be posting an announcement about its availability but, if you wish to be sure of receiving a copy, please e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) stating whether you would like the Swedish or the English version.