With sales of e-books slipping and print books enjoying a mild rebound, e-books’ share of consumer spending on books has declined over the past two years. According to data from a consumer survey conducted by Nielsen Books & Consumers, the share of spending on e-books was 18% in the third quarter of 2015, down from 20% in the third quarter of 2013.
E-books’ market share peaked at 24% in the first quarter of 2014 but has not been over 20% since the second quarter of that year. The figures point to one of the factors that may be behind the dip in sales: saturation of digital devices in the market. In the short history of the format, the strongest month for e-book sales has been January, as readers stocked up on titles to put on the digital devices they received over the holidays—a pattern reflected in the uptick in sales in the first quarter of 2014. No such increase was evident in the first quarter of 2015, however, as e-books’ share of spending held even at 19%, the same as the fourth quarter of 2014.
Another factor some industry members believe could be contributing to the dip in e-book sales is the relatively few places consumers can buy digital books. According to the Books & Consumers data, Amazon held a 65% share of e-book sales in the third quarter of 2015, and the company’s share of spending over the past two years, for the most part, has been somewhere over 60%. Apple and Barnes & Noble remain Amazon’s two largest competitors, although they trail Amazon by a wide margin. To give more choice to e-book consumers, a number of companies—among them Hummingbird Digital Media and the new incarnation of Zola Books—have started to try to democratize e-book retailing by creating turnkey storefronts that third parties can use to sell e-books directly to consumers.