Book Sales Up, Ebook Sales Down. What Does It Mean for the E-Learning Sector?

While the short term looks somewhat negative, longer term, it is likely e-learning will continue to grow in Asia and Western Europe, offsetting saturation in North America.

Ebook sales are down 17 percent in the UK to £204 million (approximately U.S.$262 million), the lowest amount since 2011, when the Kindle was launched. “I wouldn’t say that the ebook dream is over, but people are clearly making decisions on when they want to spend time with their screens,” Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association said in The Guardian in April last year. “There is generally a sense that people now are getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched, or looked at in their week. books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”

If Lotinga is to be believed, then as ebook sales fall, book sales should rise, and that appears to be true. With the latest figures that we have from The Publishers Association, book sales in the UK are up 7 percent to £4.8 billion (U.S.$6.7 billion). One Click Retail reported that Amazon’s book sales were up by 46 percent to £2.33 billion (U.S.$2.99 billion) in 2017, while its ebook sales were only up by 6 percent. It is worthwhile noting that ebooks are much cheaper, so their units sold can be as high as books, but the revenue would considerably less. However, the growth of book sales is undeniable, and it appears ebooks may have peaked.

How does this fit into the e-learning market?

According to Docebo Elearning Market Trends and Forecast 2017-2021, the market is expected to decrease by 6.4 percent. However, the story is more complex than a headline figure. According to Ambient Insight Research, the market in 2016 was worth U.S.$4.6 billion, with half of that (U.S.$2.3 billion) in the North American market alone. Asia is worth nearly U.S.$11 billion, and Western Europe is at U.S.$8 billion. The Middle East and Africa are the smallest markets by far, worth only U.S.$683 million and U.S.$603 million, respectively. With initiatives such as Dubai 2020, where the United Arab Emirates expects to be one of the safest countries in the world, and vast population growth and investment in industries such as mining and oil and gas, e-learning opportunities are there.

Investment Areas

Ambient Insight predicts that most new investment in the sector will come from Asian and Africa countries, with Myanmar and Rwanda increasing their investment by 35 and 25 percent, respectively. But compared to what they were spending, this will not impact the global market too much. It is the West that dominates this market, and with issues such as screen fatigue and the availability of more effective knowledge transfer methodologies, the outlook seems grim.

But do not despair. Funding for educational technology appears to be on the increase. Startups attracted 416 funding deals in 2016, worth US$1.7 billion. Docebo notes that funding to ed tech startups remains concentrated in the U.S. Outside of the U.S., India ranks second, with China in third position and the UK coming in fourth. With this concentration, there are opportunities outside of the U.S.

Trends to Watch

While this outlook is not entirely positive, there are some interesting trends. North America is well ahead of the rest of the world in engaging with e-learning, and because of that, there is a degree of market saturation. However, there are growth oppportunities in Western Europe. Likewise, in the medium and long term, investment from Asia is set to grow. The last frontier for e-learning will be the continent of Africa.

In terms of the domestic fall of the ebook and what that means for e-learning, there may be some parallels. “Old school management” techniques are still being held onto in places such as the UK, which is capable of adapting to e-learning but may be reluctant to. There is also a highly developed culture of external training and learning these days. For e-learning professionals, breaking this cultural behaviour will be a long term endeavor. While the short term looks negative, longer term, it is likely e-learning will continue to grow in Asia and Western Europe, offsetting saturation in North America. However, this challenge will be ever present in today’s highly technological world. As an industry, we must be resilient, responsive, and responsible to ensure that we are improving on what we are replacing. The technological fightback was always going to come, and the next few years will prove the resilience of the market.

Kestell Duxbury is the Knowledge editor at BlueBottleBiz, a collaboration learning community for professionals that has one of the largest cloud-based libraries in the world focusing on business-relevant content. For more information, visit:

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