Ebooks gone global: Report suggests less resistance, more legal sales and importance of Apple

The growth of the ebook market outside the U.S. and U.K. has been slow — but 2013 may be a turning point, according to a new report on the global ebook market (PDF) from consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart. The latest edition of Wischenbart’s annual report finds ebooks “transcending their initial niche in a number of countries in continental Europe” — but the transition looks different in emerging markets like China, Russia, India and Brazil. And interestingly, in some developing countries it appears that Apple, not Amazon, is the lead player in ebook sales.

The report takes a stab at providing ebook penetration by country, relying largely on pulling data together from previously published reports by other sources like PwC and regional publishing organizations. And Wischenbart notes that it’s very challenging to get apples-to-apples data:

“The market share of ebooks sometimes refers to total industry revenues — which makes only limited sense, as ebooks concentrate usually on a few sectors, notably fiction. Also the number of available titles as ebooks is difficult to assess, as for most markets, no clear line can be drawn to differentiate between commercial titles, and corporate or public domain works, not to speak to the skyrocketing number of self-published ebooks of all sorts.”

Here are a few tidbits from the report:

  • The U.S. and U.K. ebook markets are maturing. Ebooks made up around 20 percent of the U.S. consumer book market in 2012, according to the most recent edition of BookStats, and in 2013 big publishers are reporting that over 30 percent of revenues in some categories (like adult fiction) come from digital. In the U.K., meanwhile, ebooks made up 20 percent of the book market for the first half of 2013. Digital migration appears to be slowing, though.
  • Germany’s ebook market is growing particularly fast. The report noted that ebooks made up about 5 percent of the German book market in mid-2013, up from 2.4 percent in 2012, and that for new releases that figure is between 8 and 10 percent. It’s estimated that about half of German ebook sales come from Amazon (s AMZN), with two large German bookstore chains — Thalia and Weltbild — making up 34 percent and Apple taking 10 percent.
  • The French resist ebooks — except maybe they don’t. French publishers’ association Syndicat National de L’Edition (SNE) estimates that ebooks made up just around 3 percent of publisher revenues in 2012. And the report notes that “the general media not only paint a picture highlighting the ‘resistance’ of the French public to reading on small screens but discuss this in the more fundamental terms of a French ‘cultural exception’.” Yet recent studies find there’s reason to question this: French consumers are expected to own 6 million tablets and 500,000 e-readers by the end of 2013; a recent study found that one in five French citizens have read an ebook. SNE also conducted a study in March 2012 that found 90 percent of respondents saying they’d never read an ebook. Six months later, 14 percent of those surveyed “had read an ebook at least in part, [and] another 8 percent would give it a thought at least.”
  • Ebooks in Russia: Lots of readers, lots of piracy. A recent study found that 70 percent of Russians read ebooks, and 92 percent say they get them “for free” from the internet. Nonetheless, legal ebook sales appear to be growing: Revenues from legal ebook sales totaled 260 million Rubles (USD $8 million) in 2012, up from 135 million Rubles (USD $4.19 million) in 2011. Apple (s AAPL) is one of the largest sellers of legal ebooks. Kindle (s AMZN) hasn’t launched there yet.
  • Lots of growth in Brazil because books are tax-free — and soon e-readers might be, too. Amazon Google (s GOOG) and Kobo all started selling ebooks in Brazil in 2012, but reports indicate that Apple’s iBookstore still has the lead in ebook sales there. Print books in Brazil are tax-free, and “so far, everyone is treating ebooks as tax-free products” as well. Meanwhile, the Brazilian senate is “discussing a bill that would officially make both ebooks and dedicated E-ink readers tax-free.”

You can download the full report for free here.