Friday Comment: Irish Booksellers Are Missing Out On Digital Sales

Last week a new science-fiction and fantasy title, A Dance With Dragons, sold 2,200 copies in hardback in Ireland. What’s more, it did so at over €20 per copy. An impressive result and a great boost for the booksellers who sold it.

In countries like the US and the UK though the same book sold huge numbers of hardback copies AND huge numbers of ebook editions, 170,000 print copies and 110,000 e-book copies1 on its first day of sales alone in the US according to its US Publisher, Random House. In the UK, the Bookseller reports that, ‘HarperCollins sold more than 10,000 e-books’ and ‘ 28,840 copies last week in bookshops.’2

You would imagine that with a perfect opportunity to increase the visibility of ebooks in Ireland and with a clear market for the ebook version, Irish booksellers would have been keen to exploit the interest. You’d be wrong. No Irish bookseller sold a single copy of the book in digital form.

In percentage terms those UK & US number are very impressive too, 28.9% for the US and 25.6% for the UK. If those figures were translated into Ireland you might imagine ebooks accounting for some 440 units3.

In percentage terms those UK & US number are very impressive too, 28.9% for the US and 25.6% for the UK. If those figures were translated into Ireland you might imagine ebooks accounting for some 440 units3.

The truth is that Irish ebook sales are nowhere near that level, we’d be lucky if they were 5%. That’s less than 100 units sold in digital format. The point is that for a title where ebooks are a clearly important part of the sales mix, Irish readers, if they want to buy an ebook version, MUST purchase that ebook from a foreign retailer. Not one Irish bookseller was selling the ebook edition as of this morning.

Even allowing for a lower ebook price point (around €12-€15 for A Dance With Dragons) and even allowing for the much lower ebook market share in Ireland, Irish booksellers are allowing foreign retailers to suck up their market and potentially capture their ebook sales in the future too. Imagine if just one retailer HAD sold the ebook to Irish readers and promoted it to Irish digital readers. Even if it had only been 50 sales they could have increased their revenue by €500 or €600. Who, in this day and age, can sniff at that?

Easons, to its credit, has at least made an effort with ebooks. Its store offers 60% of the titles in the top ten last week, but not the bestseller.

Easons, to its credit, has at least made an effort with ebooks. Its store offers 60% of the titles in the top ten last week, but not the bestseller. The ebook listings pages on the site are attractive and the prices not outrageous. However the company does not seem to be pushing ebooks with any degree of enthusiasm.

As for the independents, ebooks seem to not exist for them. Of course they might reply what CAN we do? You might start by looking at what Readings, a small independent chain in Australia, is doing on the book.ish platform.

As for the independents, ebooks seem to not exist for them. Of course they might reply what CAN we do? You might start by looking at whatReadings, a small independent chain in Australia, is doing on the booki.sh platform.

Options do exist. Kobo Books has already called for partners to help it expand internationally. Barnes & Noble, although they have not spoken publicly about their desire to expand the Nook’s reach, must be thinking about how to reach foreign markets. Even Google offers a potential partnership with its ebook service (which was just revealed as the partner for JK Rowling’s Pottermore site).

It seems to me that the key is combining content, a reasonably priced device and a real commitment to digital publishing rather than just lip-service. That strategy has worked for Barnes & Noble when they realized the future was digital and it previously worked for Amazon.

As ebooks grow in Ireland, as they surely will, booksellers failure to embrace ebooks actively will result in more and more digital sales leaking from the Irish market towards UK and US retailers who actually do sell the ebooks people want. Once they start buying ebooks from foreign stores they are unlikely return to Irish retailers for them. If Irish booksellers don’t look for a way to get involved in ebook sales and quickly, they will lose physical sales and not even have a hope of replacing them. That would be bad for them, bad for readers who value Irish bookstores and bad for literary culture in Ireland.

~~~~
Notes
1 | http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/books/george-r-r-martins-dance-with-dragons-sells-well.html
2 | http://www.thebookseller.com/news/hc-hits-digital-martin-milestone.html
3 | Based on a 25% market share of 2200.