Neilsen says New Zealanders buy almost five million hard copy books a year. Meanwhile the Book Depository says out of the 160 countries it sell to, New Zealand is second only to Australia. We are ahead of the UK and the US.
These numbers come from a media release put out by the Book Depository. This may not seem remarkable, but the Book Depository is owned by Amazon.
The shopping giant may have started out as an online bookshop, but it has poured millions into developing the e-book market. Amazon still sells its own Kindle brand of ebook reader; the most popular standalone reader.
In other words, the world’s largest retailer of ebooks is happy to let everyone know that hard copy is still more popular with readers.
Scratch the surface and it seems the e-book market topped out about a decade ago. It hasn’t grown significantly since then. Meanwhile hard copy book sales continue to climb.
As far as it can go
I wouldn’t say this means Amazon has thrown in the towel on e-books, but it seems the market has gone as far as it is going to for now and hard copy sales are rising. Hard copy books have some practical advantages over e-books.
Neilsen’s New Zealand specific market research found 80 percent of people in this country only read hard copy books. A mere five percent only read digital books. The rest read a mix of the two.
Books are still popular online. Almost 600,000 New Zealanders bought a book from a website in the last year.
Book Depository says orders to NZ have climbed 45 percent in the past three years. Although this might be because buyers are switching from other sources both online and offline. Still 45 percent represents significant growth, remember e-book sales are static.
A third of the books sold here by the Book Depository are for children. So the next generation is already invested in print rather than digital.
Part of this could be parents wanting to prise kids away from digital devices for a few moments, but there’s also more pleasure in reading a hard copy book together than sharing a screen.
Books expensive in New Zealand
I suspect one reason New Zealanders are enthusiastic online book buyers is because prices are far higher than elsewhere in the world.
This is particularly true for popular fiction books which are often discounted in large stores overseas. In some cases we pay more than twice the price paid by UK or US readers.
There are a few crumbs of comfort in this for local bookstores. While huge sales are going to offline online booksellers, the fact that readers continue to buy hard copy books in such large numbers means there is still a worthwhile market here. It’s doubtful that books will die in out lifetimes. Whether they can compete on price is another matter.