Trends in Digital Book Publishing

The Spring 2014 AAUP Digital Book Publishing Survey Report was published on June 16, just in time for our Annual Meeting.

The annual survey seeks information on a range of digital book publishing strategies, from sales channels and distribution partners, to revenue projections, to the integration of XML in workflows, to the use of various digital marketing and discovery services. For the first time, the survey also collected information about metadata management and distribution, and the role tenure and review plays in digital book publishing decisions.

75 member presses (56% of the membership) submitted data this year—and 58 of those responding presses participated for at least two years in a row. We used a different collection method this year, sending a unique survey link to each member press director, in order to receive one survey response from each responding press. This made for a more accurate quantitative picture, but may have slightly narrowed the range of perspectives covered by more qualitative sections. 53% of the individuals responding to the “Perspectives” questions this year were press directors, whereas in 2013, directors made up only 47% of the individual survey respondents.

Please do take a few minutes to read over the full report, but here are a few highlights from what we learned this year:

  • A greater percentage of Group 3 and Group 4 (larger) presses than smaller presses are experimenting with more digital-specific formats, such as enhanced ebooks, book apps, and digital shorts. Smaller (Group 1 and Group 2) presses have adopted more mature digital book strategies—such as POD programs, e-editions of print titles, full text search-and-discover—to roughly the same degree as the larger presses.
  • The 2013 survey reported that ebook sales and licenses represented, for the majority of presses, 3-15% of press revenues. In 2014, that range has crept northward to 7-20%. A number of survey participants commented that growth was slowing in this area.
  • 11% of reporting presses publish some frontlist books on an Open Access (OA) basis.
  • More than 90% of presses distribute ONIX metadata either in-house or through a vendor.
  • Many presses, as in past years, reported that one of the key goals for their digital book publishing programs is to make titles available in whatever format a reader wants it—be it print, PDF, on a Kindle, on a tablet.
  • Limited resources, both financial and human, continue to be some of the most significant concerns for all presses in developing digital book publishing programs.

A common sentiment, as well-expressed by one press director, as the possibilities for digital book publishing multiply, is “We are watching with an interested eye and treading with a careful foot.”

Brenna McLaughlin
Director of Marketing and Communications, AAUP