The Astounding New Market for English-Language Books

By Joseph T. Sinclair

How many English readers are there in the world? There’s no telling. But there are estimates of how many people can speak English as either a first or second language. David Crystal, a British linguist, estimates that non-native English speakers outnumber native speakers 3 to 1. With estimates of native speakers at almost 400 million, non-native speakers number about 1.2 billion. The grand total is 1.6 billion.

Some quick statistics shed light on where the markets are for books written in English. The ranking show the total English speakers using English as a first or second language.


United States                                    268

India                                       125

Pakistan                                 87

Nigeria                                   79

UK                                          60

Philippines                            48

Canada                                   25

Australia                                18

New Zealand                         4

The statistics above don’t show the number of English speakers in Europe, South America, Central America, Asia, Africa, and Indonesia where many educated and business people speak English as a second language.

For authors and publishers these statistics are an eye-opener. Do you want to exploit the New Zealand book market or the Indian book market? The Australian book market or the Pakistani book market? Again, we don’t know the literacy rate of the English speakers (as a second language), but we can probably assume that it is higher than the local language literacy rate; the English speakers are more likely to be educated.

You can hardly overestimate the Wow! factor in the size of the potential markets abroad. The question is, how do you reach such markets?

The traditional way has been to farm out the copyrights to foreign publishers. This has been done for a small fraction of printed books to a small number of additional countries for each book. But the world has changed. Easy worldwide distribution is now possible via digital books. No local publisher needed. But how?

Fortunately, the iOS and Android operating systems for phones and tablets invented in the US are the most widely used in the world, and the US has set the standards for ebook formats too. Consequently, English-speaking customers abroad can buy ebooks on Amazon or Apple and read them via the Amazon ebook-reader app or the Apple iBook reader.

The question is, does this avenue fully penetrate the markets? How many people in in the US have an Amazon account? Let’s face it, only a fraction of the total potential book customers have an account. How many people in Pakistan have an Amazon account?  A much smaller fraction.

Apple is a little different in that its ebook sales are tied in with its app sales, and its app sales are tied to its devices. For Android, the operating system, the book vendors, and the manufacturers are separate business entities and are not necessarily tied together in commerce.

The conclusion is that for Apple, the potential ebook market is theoretically 100% of the device market. For Android the potential ebook market is only a fraction of the device market, probably a small fraction, particularly abroad. Why? There are three businesses involved instead of one. Yet, even for Apple, the ebook system (catalog) is separate from the app system (catalog).

Therefore, my conclusion is that ebooks are distinctly separate from digital books that are in an app format. Apps are tied to devices much more tightly, and book apps have larger potential sales worldwide than books in an ebook format.

The startling news for BAIPA members is that digital books have expanded the market for books in English by 300%. The even more startling news is that to reach the expanded market is much easier and less expensive than the traditional way (for printed books). Indeed, it’s feasible for very small publishers. And the even more-than-that startling news is that independent publishers have a huge advantage over traditional publishers.

What’s the advantage? Books in an app format typically sell for less, and traditional publishers cannot sell books so cheaply; think of all that corporate overhead.

I see the future for books is as book apps, not ebooks. Although there are many reasons for this beyond the demographics, the demographics are compelling. Everyone with a smart phone has instant access to apps and knows how to buy and use apps. Not every smart phone user has instant access to ebooks or can afford them.

So we’ve seen the demographics on English speakers. Let’s look at the cell phone demographics. According to industry estimates five billion people now have cell phones. Whaaat? Astounding! About one billion of those are smart phones. In four years, there will be five billion smart phone users. Combine the English-speaker demographics with the estimates on the numbers of phone users and you’re staring at a rising tsunami of English-language publishing opportunities beyond the imagination. You are the deer staring into the headlights.

Are you ready?


©2014 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.

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