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Audiobook and eBook Publishing in Canada (2008)

Executive Summary

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Commissioned by the Initiative for Equitable Library Access (IELA) at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and conducted from August through October 2008, this study presents a comprehensive overview of audio and digital book publishing in Canada, exploring current issues and trends related to the production, distribution, and use of non-print formats.

The study addresses two broad categories in terms of format: (1) audiobooks and (2) eBooks. For our purposes, an audiobook is a spoken word recording based on a print edition of a book, while an eBook is any text-based, book-length digital edition (whether based on an equivalent print edition or not).

Both English and French-language markets in Canada are encompassed in the study. All major categories of book publishing, including educational texts, are considered but the focus is largely on trade publishing—i.e., books published for a general audience and sold mainly through bookstores or circulated in public libraries.

The study explores digital publishing as it pertains both to a mainstream reading audience and to print-disabled readers, since in some ways these audiences are interlinked within the digital content marketplace. An increasing selection of digital book content presents new opportunities for print-disabled readers, especially when twinned with assistive technologies. Similarly, the print-disabled community can be a catalyst for innovation and digitization.

The context for the study is a time of rapid change in the book business. The widespread adoption of broadband Internet has created a new mass medium—one that supports a host of related technologies and that has triggered important changes in how we read and write. The publishing industry has already realized some of the opportunities and challenges of an Internet-enabled marketplace, and experience tells us that in this environment change can be fast and far-reaching. There is little doubt that there is something important happening in the world of digital publishing.

The study's main findings include:

Mainstream audiences are primed for digital: "Digital natives" (i.e., those who have grown up using computers and the Internet) are very at ease reading off a screen as opposed to the printed page and are ready consumers of digital content. At the other end of the demographic spectrum, Canada's aging population means that an increasing number of consumers will prefer or require non-print formats that help them counter sight or other print-reading challenges.

Digital devices are on the rise: The mass market's adoption of a new generation of Internet-enabled portable devices—e.g., cell phones, smart phones, and PDAs—has accelerated consumption of digital content, both online and via download. Similarly, the rapid adoption of purpose-built reading devices, especially the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle, has given eBooks real traction in consumer markets for the first time.

Digitization of book content is increasing rapidly: Thanks to increasingly digital production workflows, virtually all publishers can easily generate some level of eBook file from their native production files. As publishers accumulate a growing archive of digital production files, and as older backlist titles are scanned or otherwise converted into usable digital source files, the commercial output of digital books has naturally increased. To date, this has mainly been in the form of eBooks of various formats—especially PDF—and large multinational publishers have accounted for the majority of commercial releases.

There are basically three major factors that are encouraging publishers to expand their digitization efforts:

  1. The prospect of increased eBook sales (or other sale or licensing arrangements for electronic content)
  2. The opportunity to use print-on-demand technology for titles with limited print runs
  3. The need to participate, and respond quickly to new opportunities, in online sales and marketing

These factors suggest that it is the changing book marketplace—rather than book publishers themselves—that is driving change in digitization and distribution of digital book content.

The audiobook market is growing quickly but title output has remained relatively stable over the past decade. Fuelled by new formats and an increasing shift to online distribution, the market for audiobooks is growing quickly—an average of 8–10% per year over the last four years—and at a pace that significantly outstrips the overall growth in the book market. The number of new audiobooks released in 2007 represented slightly more than 3% of the total title output recorded that year.

New platforms exist for digital content: The digital marketplace has given rise to new sales channels and new types of trading partners that present publishers with additional opportunities to bring their digital editions to market. There are now major consumer platforms for digital book content online, including Amazon for eBooks and Audible and Numilog for audiobooks.

Specialized library service providers are driving development of digital collections: The institutional market—including both academic and public libraries—is now widely served by a group of specialized library service providers that are also aggregating large digital collections on behalf of their library clients. These service providers, such as OverDrive and NetLibrary, have introduced new collection models and sophisticated tools for both librarians and library patrons that support the circulation of digital books within libraries.

There is relatively little Canadian content in sales channels for digital editions: The Canadian market for digital book content is largely shaped by major multinational publishers. Prices are effectively set by imported book product, and the title selection is mainly determined by global rights arrangements and working relationships between large trading partners in New York, London, and Paris. At the same time, the Canadian-owned publishing firms that account for the majority of Canadian-authored titles published each year have been relatively slow to publish digital editions of their books. Canadian-owned firms are small compared to their multinational competitors and generally have more limited staff and/or budget resources to invest in digitization programs.

Digital does not equal accessible: eBooks offer certain advantages over printed books to individuals living with a loss of vision or other print disabilities, but accessing and handling the plurality of formats in which eBooks are available requires a fairly advanced level of computer skill, and the required equipment can be expensive. Therefore, ease of use and accessibility for all readers remains an issue, even with a growing inventory of digital book content.

Management of rights and copyright is a major market shaper: The ability to acquire electronic and/or audio rights is a prerequisite for digital publishing. Many book publishers will have audio rights for their titles, but relatively few have historically acquired electronic rights. Therefore, a decision to publish electronic editions of one's books is often accompanied by the need to revise contract language for new titles and to clear or acquire electronic rights for previously published work.

The application of Digital Rights Management protections (DRM) is the other key rights issue in digital publishing. Once digitized and made available online, book content can be easily copied and widely circulated beyond the control of the publisher or an authorized distributor. DRM measures typically restrict the use of digital content to a specified number of copies or formats or playback options. The goal is to limit piracy of copyrighted work, but these measures often also have the effect of locking content into a given sales channel.

But in recent years, consumer resistance to DRM restrictions on digital content, combined with publishers' interest in breaking down platform monopolies has led to a weakening (or even abandoning) of DRM protections on an expanding range of digital titles.

Beyond these key findings, which are found in Part I of the study report, the study is organized in the following chapters.

  • Part II: The Canadian Market for Digital Books: An overview of the current market for audiobooks and eBooks in Canada, including basic market characteristics, consumer behaviour, and channels to market.
  • Part III: Production of Digital Editions: An exploration of the current environment for the production of digital and audio publications in Canada, including major producers in and outside of the traditional publishing industry and a review of factors that affect title output.
  • Part IV: Circulation in Public Libraries: An overview of how digital editions are collected and circulated by public libraries in Canada, and a discussion around the factors that encourage or discourage the availability and use of non-print resources in Canadian libraries.

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