New Research Finds “Digitizing Books Can Spur Demand For Physical Copies”
From Cornell News:
Book publishers cried foul – in the form of numerous legal challenges – nearly two decades ago when the Google Books project digitized and freely distributed more than 25 million works.
The publishers argued that free digital distribution undermines the market for physical books, but new research from Cornell’s Imke Reimers and a collaborator reveals that the opposite – increased demand for physical books, through online discovery – could be true.
Reimers, an associate professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and Abhishek Nagaraj, assistant professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, exploited a natural experiment condition to examine the impact of Google’s massive book-digitization project on physical sales.
Their paper, “Digitization and the Market for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project,” published Oct. 31 in American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. Their main findings: Digitization can boost sales of physical books by up to 8% by stimulating demand through online discovery. The increase in sales was found to be stronger for less popular books and even spilled over to a digitized author’s nondigitized works.
The researchers analyzed a total of 37,743 books scanned between 2005 and 2009. They looked at sales for the two years before this digitization period compared to the two years after, and found stark differences in the likelihood of increased sales between digitized and nondigitized cohorts. Approximately 40% of digitized titles saw a sales increase from 2003-04 to 2010-11, compared to less than 20% of titles that were not digitized.Reimers admitted the findings were a bit surprising.
“We didn’t necessarily expect the positive effect on sales,” she said. “We expected a positive effect on use, because if a book is readily available online, people can find it more easily and naturally they’re going to use it more. But the positive effect on sales was something we didn’t anticipate.”
Reimers said the “discovery effect” – which even spills over to nondigitized books by an author whose digitized works a user is seeking – is a strong driver of increased sales. “It’s not a huge jump in sales,” she said, “but it’s still good news for publishers.”
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About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.