There are 312 million people online in the USA, the worlds biggest book market. Impressive, but there’s nowhere to grow. The Middle East is now only 100 million internet users behind the US, at 211 million. Latin America has 540 million people online. Africa 650 million. Europe 750 million. Asia… 3 BILLION!

It’s 2022, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was 2010, or even 1999, the way some publishers view the global digital opportunity.

Here’s the latest regional breakdown from Internet World Stats, with its June 2022 global estimates.

The numbers are stunning, but the penetration rates even more so. Consider: North America (in this case US and Canada – Central America and the Caribbean, while geologically North America, are included in the Latin America / Caribbean sector stats), has a total of 349 million internet users, but is at 93.4% internet penetration. Were North America ever to reach an attainable 97% internet penetration it would still only have 365 million internet users, and at that point there is no room to grow.

In the Middle East, with the exceptions of Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, every country is at or above US penetration levels. But that 78.9% internet penetration today means the Middle East could have 260 million people online when it reaches 97% penetration.

Latin America and the Caribbean – essentially all the Americas from Mexico down – is at 81.8% penetration right now, with 543 million people online. That’s 231 million more internet users than in the US. When LatAm-Caribbean hits 97% penetration that figure will be 644 million people online.

But here’s the incredible thing: that 644 million will still be below where Africa already is today. Africa already has 652 million internet users. That’s double the internet users in the USA. And it’s only at 46.8% penetration. When – and it is when, not if – Africa hits 97% internet penetration it will have 1.3 billion people online.

Asia crossed that mark long ago, and today has 2.9 billion internet users. It will cross the 3 billon mark before this year is over. But Asia is only at 67.4% internet penetration. Where will it be when it attains 97% internet penetration? Try 4.2 billion.

But even if we set aside the projections and just look at where we are as we prepare to cross into 2023, there are 5.473 billion internet users out there – every one by definition using or holding a device that can be used to consume digital books, comics, magazines audiobooks, podcasts, etc.

Print, wonderful and desirable as it is and will continue to be, can never, in our wildest dreams, reach that level of consumer potential.

As the world prepares for recession, the paper shortages continue and the supply chain woes deepen, there’s never been a better time for publishers to reassess their digital priorities.