Digitization and the Market for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project – American Economic Association

Abstract:  The free digital distribution of creative works could cannibalize demand for physical versions, but it could also boost physical sales by enabling consumers to discover the original work. We study the impact of the Google Books digitization project on the market for physical books. We find that digitization significantly boosts the demand for physical versions and provide evidence for the discovery channel. Moreover, digitization allows independent publishers to introduce new editions for existing books, further increasing sales. Our results highlight the potential of free digital distribution to strengthen the demand for and supply of physical products.


Digitizing books can spur demand for physical copies | Cornell Chronicle

“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….”

AUPresses Webinar: Unpacking the Open Access Impact on Print Book Sales

“In September, Ithaka S+R and the Association of University Presses published the report “Print Revenue and Open Access Monographs: A University Press Study,” as well as its affiliated data set. Join authors of the study during OA Week 2023 to discuss the findings in this report, and share ideas about how university presses can use the information to develop sustainable OA monograph publishing solutions. This research was funded by a Level I Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).”

Open Access and Sales Revenue Can Co-Exist – The Scholarly Kitchen

“Developing sustainable open access book publishing models is particularly important for university presses which see the benefits of increased dissemination, but already operate under razor-thin margins, and subscribe to open models have gained traction in recent years. To gather evidence that we hope will provide new options for open access models, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Association of University Presses and Ithaka S+R have just published our new research study on open access and sales revenue. Our key finding: open access monographs can generate significant revenue — both on the print side and digitally. …”

Print Revenue and Open Access Monographs

The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) and Ithaka S+R today publish “Print Revenue and Open Access Monographs: A University Press Study.” This report is the result of research funded by a Level I Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to investigate the effect of open digital editions on the sales of print monographs.


In the Internet Archive Lawsuit, a Win for Publishers May Come at a Cost for Readers Everywhere | The Walrus

“Ostensibly, publishers and libraries ought to be on the same side: libraries aim to advance learning by providing free and open access to information; publishing literally means to disseminate to the public. Big publishers suing a digital library for furthering this common mission—during an unprecedented assault on libraries’ purpose and function—is a weird look. It’s also unclear what it actually does for writers. Most authors—some estimates say up to 70 percent—don’t earn royalties beyond their book advances and will never have the luxury of worrying about income from the sale of their works in digital formats. The funds under dispute, by and large, go straight back to the publishers.

This situation leaves writers awkwardly caught in the middle. Supporting libraries isn’t just an abstract feel-good principle: it can also have a material effect on a book’s fate. Libraries feature titles, offer programming, and choose how many copies to order. At the same time, writing is a financially precarious enterprise. The prospect of a library buying one copy of your book, scanning it, and lending it out ad infinitum is, admittedly, horrifying. But the Internet Archive decision doesn’t just prevent that outcome—it may also affect libraries’ rights to lend single scanned copies of books that they have already purchased….”

Readership boost for monographs after British Academy switches to Open Access | The British Academy

“The British Academy has published its first Open Access monograph as part of efforts to widen the reach of the scholarship it funds….

The British Academy Monographs series has been published since 1998 in partnership with Oxford University Press. It provides an opportunity for Academy-supported early career researchers to produce substantial contributions to scholarship. The Academy has published an Open Access Journal since 2013 but this is the first time it has done so for its monographs….”

Guest Post – Does Open Access Cannibalize Print Sales for Monographs? – The Scholarly Kitchen

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by John Sherer. John is the Spangler Family Director of the University of North Carolina Press. He is the chair of the Association of University Presses Open Access Committee and is the Primary Investigator in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded, Sustainable History Monograph Pilot.

Within the scholarly book publishing community, it’s not particularly controversial to claim that free digital editions of monographs will erode print sales. After all, who would pay for something they can get for free? These books already sell so few copies, and the economics are so unfavorable, that further revenue erosion could easily shatter an already precarious ecosystem. That said, there’s a growing body of research indicating that readers strongly prefer print formats for these publications (for example see the 2018 Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey and Naomi Baron’s Words on Screen). And there’s anecdotal reporting that in open access (OA) experiments at university presses, print sales have been stable. Can we review sales data for OA titles to find out if the claim of print cannibalization is true?

University of North Carolina Studies in Germanic Languages and Literature – UNC Press

“The Press and its partners, UNC Chapel Hill’s Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and the UNC Library, are pleased to make available 124 monographs, translations, and critical editions. This is the first time these works will be available as ebooks, which will be accessible in open access PDF and EPUB (with a few exceptions) formats, as well as in new paperback editions. The digital editions will be hosted on the Carolina Digital Repository, Project MUSE, JSTOR, OAPEN, and a number of other open access platforms….”

Small Publisher Embraces Controlled Digital Lending to Connect with New Readers  – Internet Archive Blogs

“I think in the end, [Controlled Digital Lending] drives sales because you are finding readers you wouldn’t normally have. Those readers aren’t getting a copy that they keep forever — it’s a copy that’s going to lead them to want to own it.”

How academic libraries can support humanities monographs

“These differences make the publishing process for monographs distinctly different. They impose greater responsibilities on the author and the press and don’t support some of the cooperative benefit of a large-scale operation that processes thousands of articles.

What I’d like you to consider, though, is that these differences also provide some amazing opportunities for libraries to be leaders and innovators in supporting the value of the humanities and OA monograph publishing….”

Scholarly E-Books and University Presses – Part Two – The Scholarly Kitchen

“What happens to print when digital is available first and for free? Does print get cannibalized by free, open digital. Or does free, open digital lead to more print activity?

LB [Lisa Bayer]: Rather than a complement, which might imply subsidiary, I see e-books and aggregated digital content as equally important to print for scholarly books. For complex and diverse reasons, monographs are much less likely to be purchased in print editions by research libraries, especially given the enhanced accessibility, portability, and discoverability that digitally delivered content affords. When we send our content to aggregators, we join a huge network of scholarly publishers reaching thousands of institutions worldwide: that is mission-critical. At one of the last O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conferences I heard a smart person say, “The page is no longer primary.” For most of our customers, print books are still primary. But university presses operate in a file-based ecosystem, increasingly so with Open Access pilots and platforms such as Manifold, PubPub, Fulcrum, Humanities Open Book, and the Sustainable History Monograph Program….”

Steven James Bartlett, The Case against the Conventional Publication of Academic and Scientific Books – PhilPapers

An essay that weighs the main factors that lead authors of academic and scientific books to consider conventional publication of their work, with realistic and practical recommendations for these authors so they may avoid the contractual “imprisonment” of their books after the period of initial active sales has passed.

Steven James Bartlett, The Case against the Conventional Publication of Academic and Scientific Books – PhilPapers

An essay that weighs the main factors that lead authors of academic and scientific books to consider conventional publication of their work, with realistic and practical recommendations for these authors so they may avoid the contractual “imprisonment” of their books after the period of initial active sales has passed.