eBook Sales for September

The AAP just released their numbers for September 2012 polling 1,200 publishers.  The numbers are interesting if you follow the industry to any depth. Trade book sales are up overall. But not a lot. With most increases in hardcover.

But the number I found really interesting is this, and I am quoting from Publisher’s Marketplace:

“And ebooks comprised just 19 percent of trade sales for the month–their lowest percentage since December 2011.”

Holy crap, Batman. I may end up being way too high saying that ebook sales will be around 30% of all trade sales when it all settles out in a few years. There is a ton of distance (and millions and millions of new readers) between 19% and 30%.

We shall see.

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37 Responses to eBook Sales for September

  1. But the AAP is not including indie published work, is it? Your number is likely to be more accurate, I’d think.

  2. Do you know if their numbers include self-published ebooks? They could be just measuring the proportions of their (shrinking) pie.

  3. The data is misleading, in this case. Remember: September was when the retailers began discounting bestsellers from several of the major publishers. Ebooks which had been retailing for $10-14 were suddenly as low as 99 cents. All major retailers went to war over pricing for a brief period.

    Because the settlement allows retailers to take losses on ebook sales for a short period of time, so long as they do NOT take a loss over any 12 month period, all of the major retailers put books up at huge discounts. Everything except the discounted books and a few very big names vanished off the visibility charts, which caused a lot of the angst indies were complaining of in October.

    Because the AAP tracks gross sales – i.e. what the consumer paid for the book – rather than tracking sales by list price or by units – we really have no idea what the actual unit sales looked like over this period. Comparing the revenue sales of a month when most top selling titles were slashed to as low as 7% of their list price to previous months where discounting was not allowed doesn’t give us a very good picture at all. I wish they were publishing figures on unit sales alongside their gross revenue results – we’d get a better picture.

  4. Ed Teja says:

    These numbers are interesting. I am less sure they are useful. Careful analysis often shows more clearly what the analysts think than what the numbers actually mean, but basically, isn’t this just more of the stuff we should shove on the backburner and ignore? Our job is to write and publish better stuff rather than worry about how well other folks are doing. I think a guy named Dean Wesley Smith said something like that in his advice to writers and indie publishers.

    • dwsmith says:

      I agree, Ed. But there is a difference between ignoring everything and having data. I never said ignore stuff, I said learn business. Never worry about how other folks are doing, that I did say. Who cares about what some other writer is doing? But I did say learn business and these numbers are interesting. They don’t change anything, but I point them out because of all the people who said paper books were doomed even though a bunch of us kept saying, “Nope. Paper books will be around for as long as I live.” This is just one of those facts toward that position, nothing more and nothing of real value. Just interesting, as you said.

      • Good reinforcement for the idea that a POD of your book is just common sense though, I’d say! :)

        • dwsmith says:


          And for me personally, what I find interesting is that the short stories that I have the $4.99 trade paper and the $2.99 electronic edition, the sales of the $2.99 electronic edition have increased. So even if I don’t sell many of the paper editions of my short fiction, my sense is that the existence of the paper is helping sell the electronic editions. But that’s just me observing only one person’s sales. Mine. No value in any real facts.

          • That’s what I’ve found with my work (mostly non-fiction). I put the Kindle and Smashwords versions up on the same day I make the POD copy (through Lulu) go live, but it takes a couple of months for the POD version to show up on Amazon. When it does, the sales instantly take off. I suspect people are looking and saying “Hmm… $5 is a little pricey” when the ebooks are there on their own, but when they see the paperback selling for $15 or whatever, they think “Wow, what a bargain! It’s $10 cheaper!” and buy it.

          • The paper version gives an author one more location that a reader can find you. Many readers may start looking in physical books but then “hey, I can get this on Kindle at half the price – I’m doing it!”
            Every time I go into Amazon I’m looking for the kindle books but to do it from the top down menu I have to hover over “Departments > Kindle > Kindle Books” … Amazon could increase electronic sales if they made that “one click to all the ebooks” right at the top of Departments. But they want to sell other stuff.
            It’s like a supermarket, floorspace is dedicated to the highest profit per sqft.

          • Mark says:

            Almost all of my erotica shorts are electronic only. Am I short-circuiting my income by not having a paperback option? I was under the impression that no one would buy erotica paperbacks.

          • dwsmith says:

            Not a clue, Mark. Not a lot of people buy my short story paperbacks either. But some do, and since it costs me no money and only a few hours, I love holding them in my hand and having them on my shelf. But as I have said before, I love paper books. Nothing against reading books in electronic form, but I just love holding a book. So I’m weird. As for erotica, not a clue.

          • Jak Koke says:

            Very interesting, Dean. And thanks for sharing all this.

            Makes sense too, from a behavioral economics standpoint. By having a $4.99 price point option, buyers think they’re getting a deal when they buy at $2.99. Otherwise they might be comparing the $2.99 price point to other short stories, which might be at a lower price … it’s a perception of value shift.

          • dwsmith says:

            Yup. Works too.

          • Paul zante says:

            Yes, erotic paperback short stories do sell. :)

          • Marc Cabot says:

            I don’t make individual POD of my erotic novellas, but I do make POD of collections of them. They don’t sell great but they do sell. It was definitely worth the time it took to make them. I’m going to vend them at a conference in March, and even if they don’t sell out it gets my name in front of everybody who goes to the con.

          • J.A. Marlow says:

            Mark, as someone who has worked in one of A’s warehouses, I can tell you that they do stock and sell erotic and erotic romance paper books (POD and others). Go ahead and get your work into print.

  5. But those numbers aren’t separating nonfiction and fiction are they? I’ve read two blog posts by agents who said their fiction clients were selling around 50% ebook and their nonfiction clients 10% ebook. That’s a big gap between types. I know that’s an anecdotal, and from agents, but there is a problem with the AAP numbers lumping everything together.

    This same report said ebook sales were increasing in adult and children fiction categories, as I recall.

    • dwsmith says:

      David, yes, that is all trade books. Every genre in fiction is different, every type of book, from nonfiction to children’s to young adult is different. This just looks at books in general, trade books, excluding text books, which in most instances are not in the “trade books” area. But every little niche is different. As it always is.

      • If fiction moves further toward ebooks while nonfiction doesn’t move that will eventually make stocking bookstores more interesting. Assuming the growth continues. Obviously the rapid growth has calmed to slow growth, which is normal and should be expected.

        • Mark says:

          David: “If fiction moves further toward ebooks while nonfiction doesn’t move that will eventually make stocking bookstores more interesting. Assuming the growth continues. Obviously the rapid growth has calmed to slow growth, which is normal and should be expected.”

          I’ve already seen local indie bookstores start to stock more children’s and non-fiction at the expense of fiction. Fiction is leading the charge in ebooks. In fact the AAP said that ebook fiction led all other formats of fiction in one of their press releases. I’ve seen estimates that ebooks may account for 50% of fiction sales.

          Anyway, I think bookstores have figured this out and are moving stock more stuff that people tend to want to buy in paper, such as children’s books and non-fiction.

          Final thought: Indie writers are likely to always do much, much better with ebooks than paper books. It’s very difficult for indies to get titles into the chains (B&N stores, Books A Million) and even if an indie gets a distributor like Ingram to list his or her titles, it’s still a tough road to get indie bookstores to buy them.

          • dwsmith says:

            Mark, the indie distribution to bookstores is changing. Stay tuned. There are lots of developments behind the scenes, numbers of distributors starting up to help indie publishers get to bookstores. It will still take a good book with a good cover to make a shelf in a store, but the route to getting there is getting easier. It’s always been possible but few indie publishers have the desire to learn how to do it, so these new distributors are coming in. I know. I’m helping start one.

          • The energy it would take for me to get into indie bookstores, of which we have very few here, I suspect would dramatically cut into my writing time. I hope it gets easier at some point. I sell very few print copies.

            Saw this in the Wallstreet Journal article about B&N closing a third of its stores over the next decade. One of our B&N’s has massively reduced bookshelf space in favor of toys and games and junk.

            “Bertelsmann SE & Co.’s Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books, says e-books now make up about 22% of its global sales, up from almost nothing five years ago. The head of a major publishing rival says he expects e-books will be as much as 50% of his total book sales in the U.S. by the end of 2014. Digital books already account for 60% of this publisher’s sales of new commercial fiction, a key category for the nation’s largest bookstore chain.”

  6. Ed Teja says:

    I agree on the value of paper versions. Like you, I figure that putting them up on Createspace doesn’t take that long and it becomes a “why not” proposition. I have no idea of how their existence influences ebook sales, but do know that I am thrilled whenever someone buys a paperback. I think of those sales as reaching readers who wouldn’t buy the ebook, not mention that I enjoy having my own physical books in my hand.

  7. Eric Cline says:

    The question of whether e-books will level off should always consider this: the continued refining of the delivery system.

    I saw a woman on the bus yesterday with an older Kindle, and I thought I was watching Michael Douglas make a cell phone call in “Wall Street.”

    E-readers will not only get cheaper, but will also get better. On my own blog, I have called it the “orange-juice proof” moment. When someone invents an e-reader that you can read during breakfast, spill orange juice on, wipe it off, and keep reading, without fretting that you’ve just destroyed valuable property, that will put e-books at over 30%!

    • dwsmith says:

      Eric, I think that day of those kind of ebook readers are coming, no doubt. But beyond 30%, or even up to 30% of all trade books sold, we shall see. I highly doubt it. But we shall see.

  8. Lee McAulay says:

    On a recent train journey I was surrounded by people in their twenties or younger and took a moment to see what they did to pass the time.
    One young woman was reading a big, thick, print book (chicklit, I think, judging by the cover).
    A young man was texting his friends on a mobile phone, surfing betting sites online and checking the football scores.
    A second young woman had a puzzle book.
    A third young woman was using her smartphone to play games, text her friends and look at her honeymoon photos.
    People might have been reading on their smartphones instead, but short of asking, there was no way to tell. I didn’t see a single Kindle or iPad or ebook reader in the whole train carriage. And – if you don’t read books that often, why would you need a special gizmo for ebooks? (And most people don’t read a lot of books.)

  9. Mark says:

    I hope ebook revenue gets bigger than 30%. That can only help indie authors. I’d also like e-readers to get into the hands of more people. I think people tend to read more when they have an e-reader.

    My fear is that the market is moving away from dedicated e-readers to multi-purpose tablets. The problem with tablets is you can do so much more than just read with them. I bet a lot of Kindle Fire owners have not read a single ebook. They’re playing games, browsing the web, and watching movies and TV shows.

    • Roscoe says:

      Thank you! I have an old keyboard-style Kindle, one which I understand is the last of the black-and-white eInk jobs. As I live in China, everyone assumes it must be a pad, some kind of strange, backwards American pad perhaps, and openly wonder why I would own a tablet that could only read books. It does not compute for the people around me to limit their technological options like that.

      Thank you for Getting It. :) Although I understand that Amazon is producing new reading-only models at the lower end of the market, with the Fire and so on being basically mini-smartpads.

  10. Mark says:

    A.E. Mabelson said: “The reason I bought a tablet over a Kindle is because I could do all of those other things on it. A big plus is that not only can download Kindle books on it I can also download books from Gutenburg.org also and read them with another ap. One device that I can not only read books but also use in my real estate business and my writing business as well as browse the web. I am a big fan of the tablet.”

    Yeah, my next e-reader will be a tablet, probably an iPad Mini. Then I can use the Kindle app, the B&N app, the Kobo app, etc., to read books from the different distributors. I can also get a bluetooth keyboard and do some writing with it. And I like games and there’s a lot of cool iOS games available for the iPad.

    I could see myself still having a black and white e-reader, though. I’d use the iPad Mini for most of my reading but that new 5″ Kobo is tempting for reading on the go. It can fit in most pockets.

  11. Mark says:

    Today’s news that is somewhat related: B&N plans on closing one-third of their stores over the next ten years. I guess that will help indie bookstores? Who really knows at this point. Amazon may benefit more than anyone else since they have such a good delivery system for physical books.

    • dwsmith says:

      Yup, read all that. They plan on closing about 20 stores per year over ten years, with adding in a few new ones, that will bring their total from 680 or so down to around 500 plus. They said they have about 20 stories right now that are actually losing money. The closings will also depend on leases. Sounds like smart business to me as they reorganize some of their delivery systems and so on.The stock for the bookstore side is still way undervalued.

  12. David Bain says:

    September was when the whole “Kindlegate” thing began – on or around the 14th, many indie writers noticed a cliff-like drop in sales, particularly at Amazon. Many cried conspiracy. I wondered about it myself, but the major movers joining the pricing fray (as Kevin talks about above) more or less explained it. Still, at least for me, as an indie, September started a terrible month or two in terms of sales. And if the Big Guys’ sales were down despite lower prices…

    • Roscoe says:

      Dean referred to 2012 as the first year that the regular publishing sales cycles started applying to ebooks. What ARE the regular cycles, aside from a dip in September?

      • David Bain says:

        Here’s a recent DWS comment regarding the cycles. I think he’s gone into even more detail in other posts.

        “I love how new writers, new to publishing, get all panicked at low sales in May-August. Anyone who has been around publishing for any length of time just shrugs and goes, “Yup, normal low sales time.” But I’ve watched so many indie writers panic at a few months of low sales and lower prices, the worst thing they can do going into a high sales time like the fall and winter.”

        From comments section: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=7891

  13. If you look back at your statistics for September (last three years or so) you will find that timing has a lot to do with when you measure and compare. My sales are markedly lower every September (irrespective of causes … they just ARE).
    I would ask relevant questions such as: Why do they make this comparison test in September? Why would results be different if the comparison were made in Jan/Feb? Why compare at all?

    The book business has clearly split, with no visible means of getting back together – yet we all regard it as one market, one product. It’s not, and the sooner we understand where the lines are, and how to approach the different demands of markets, the sooner we (as indie authors) can construct feasible strategies.

    The remnants of the trad producers are strong, have old tools that work well at their disposal, and still have retail outlets (digital and paper) at their beck and call. They can and do group together and collude, whereas indie producers are just that – indie, scattered and amorphous, with vague personal ideas about all the aspects of book selling, few areas of grouping available, and few realistic strategies to take us into the future… a bit chaotic. This might settle, or it might not for a while.

    There is value in all kinds of experimentation, but one must look at the timing and environment in which it takes place. Everything for the next five years or so is in a congealing state after the massive volcanic eruption (disruption) of 2009/2011. Until settling and cooling take place, and until realization dawns about the irregular and fragile environment in which we work, no real sensible estimations or decisions can be made.

    One mustn’t jump to silly economic conclusions, especially not marketing estimates and results carried out by one side of the equation at what seem like arbitrary intervals … but are not. Ask yourself WHY the estimates are published in the first place.

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