Strong growth continues in scholarly-professional eBook market

(30 March 2015,  Stamford, CT)  Scholarly and professional eBooks sales increased globally by 7.7% in 2014 and will grow an additional 6.9% in 2015, according to the latest report from media and publishing intelligence firm Simba Information.

The report, Scholarly & Professional E-Book Publishing 2015-2019, found that, although the book market as a whole has taken its lumps due to declining print sales, eBooks have greater appeal with library customers, which has led publishers to reinvest in their collections.

Book publishers watched the decline of the scholarly monograph for decades. In the 1960s, American Research Libraries could reliably be expected to provide a financial underpinning of hardcover sales in the thousands of copies. However, as spending on books slipped from 50% to 5% of many library budgets, print runs fell from the thousands to the hundreds. Many major players drastically cut back their book output.

Books were seen as a dying business by many scholarly and professional publishers with neither the cash flow nor growth opportunities of journals. But e-collections have started to change that. Unlike individual books, collections can be sold as part of a big deal, they can be licensed.

When a publisher signs a book series with an Italian applied statistics society, it creates a future string of books that can be sold as part of a mathematics collection and part of an Italian collection. The chapters of those books can be searched across millions of other documents. In most professional topics, this is how books are used. Reference works, monographs, law books and conference proceedings are not read cover to cover. Like journal articles, they are accessed by chapter or even paragraph.

Just as journal articles, individual books or chapters can be sold individually, pay-per-view or accessed for free if already part of the collection. Individual books are rarely selected by stressed and under-staffed libraries. At least in the academic libraries so dominated by scientific, technical and medical journals, eBooks are only relevant when they are part of the document collection, discoverable alongside electronic databases and online journals.

Furthermore, new discovery tools and search engines find information gems far richer than old card catalogs or even indexes. In social science and humanities, this means searching Google collections of classic titles from the world’s largest libraries, orders of magnitude larger than the average library. In the sciences, it means the “journalization” of books — finding a long forgotten thesis or possibly an experimental result whose significance and application can only now be unlocked by advancements in other areas.

This burgeoning market is not without its challenges. One of the sore points between publishers and library customers is what appears to be the arbitrary pricing of eBooks. While centuries of evolution have fine-tuned print book pricing models in the mind of both publishers and their customers, the rules of eBooks are still new and somewhat unsettled. When the ratio between print prices and eBook prices for the same content vary between publishers, the differences appear arbitrary and lead to charges of “price gouging”. Publishers are addressing the issue by developing prices based on anticipated usage patterns.

Scholarly & Professional E-Book Publishing 2015-2019 provides an overview and financial outlook for the global scholarly and professional eBook publishing markets based on specific research and analysis of the leading competitors’ performance. Company performance is projected through 2015. The overall market is divided into law, science and technology, medical, social science and humanities and business publishing. Market categories are projected through 2019. The report also discusses trends, challenges, pricing models, usage, major eBook publishers, aggregators and platform providers. For more information on the report click here.

Read the full announcement here.