It is estimated at least 50,000 readers in Spain have transitioned to digital reading – ebooks and audiobooks – in the past three weeks as lockdown in Spain keeps bookstores closed, people at home, and makes online print delivery an unnecessary hazard for warehouse and delivery workers.
Spain’s eBiblio government-operated public library platform has grown 130% since the State of Emergency was declared, picking up over 18,000 new users in three weeks, while eLiburutegia, the Euskadi digital books platform has picked up 6,000 new users.
Bookwire and Libranda are both reporting a 50% increase in digital books engagement, while Kobo says ebooks are up 140% and audiobooks 254%.
Subscription platform Nubico reports a 3-fold sign-up increase, with content consumption up 32%. Spotify audiobook consumption is up 17%.
As Javier Celaya says in an Op-Ed for Dosdoce:
Confinement is transforming the book discovery habits of thousands of readers, as well as their purchase and consumption on screens.
While we can argue the detail of the numbers (these may well be very conservative, as they do not take into account untracked consumption on platforms like Amazon, Apple, Scribd, etc), what we can be sure of is that the pattern is being replicated around the world wherever digital books are meaningfully available.
The longer the pandemic crisis continues, the longer time for dedicated print readers to migrate to digital, even as print-based stakeholders like booksellers struggle to survive. Many will stay hybrid readers or even transition fully to digital afterwards.
To be clear, there’s no suggestion this will be an extinction-event for print – but when this is over and we return to whatever the new normal may be, digital books will play a far larger part in the lives of consumers and publishers than we could ever have imagined as this new decade began just a few short months ago.
And for publishers who have for years been practicing digital-distancing not because of any irrational dislike of digital but because of fears that embracing digital would strengthen Amazon’s hand, now is not the time to be thinking how to downplay digital in the future.
Rather now is the time to, in the parlance of self-publishing authors, “go wide” to ensure Amazon’s value is collectively balanced by treating other digital outlets seriously, and to embrace counter-intuitive business models like unlimited subscription to ensure a more favourable balance in publishers digital reach and revenue streams.
Because even if the majority of booksellers survive this crisis and when all the restrictions are lifted and consumers are free to spend where they want, we have to understand that a desperately weakened global economy will for the foreseeable future thrust printed books, with their scant price flexibility, into the luxury category for most people around the world.
For authors and publishers that embrace digital’s capacity to offer flexible pricing, consumer demand will remain high.
Global publishing will never return to its pre-pandemic status.