Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ebook Sales Surpassed Print Books or did they?

You may have seen news reports last week that “Amazon's Kindle Book Sales Surpass Their Print Counterparts.” On May 19th, Matt Jarzemsky, Dow Jones Newswires, reported, “Amazon said Thursday that since April 1, it has sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books sold, including books for which there is no Kindle edition. Its sales of Kindle books so far this year have tripled from the like period in 2010, it said.” This is a significant milestone in the accelerating growth of e-publishing which Jarzemsky reported had reached sales of “$966 million last year and is expected to triple by 2015, according to Forrester Research” which measures online trends.

However, according to publishing industry insiders, this report is accurate but somewhat misleading. Three caveats must be kept in mind.
1.       Amazon is an online store and its customer base is more into the digital age than are the customers of some other book sellers.
2.       Also, the Kindle book numbers include short length self-published books and books that are in the public domain.
3.       Amazon does the comparison by units, not revenue and often sells ebooks for less than cost, in order to increase and retain market share.

Publishers are still trying to figure out how to navigate these shifting sands of distribution. My Crash Course in Genealogy, scheduled for publication next month, has been listed by the publisher as available as an e-book as well as in paper. The price for the traditional format has been announced but the price for the digital version is listed as, “Please call for pricing.” When I inquired about this I discovered my publisher has a policy of making ebooks “available through many of our distributors, including NetLibrary, Questia, OverDrive, Follett, Ebrary, and EBL. Going forward, we are diligently working with many other distributors to grow our ebook sales.” The policy in dealing with Amazon is interesting, “The threshold for free conversion to the Kindle format has now dropped to 5 print copies sold through Amazon.com in the trailing 90 days.”

It is going to be very interesting to see how all of this sorts itself out in the next few years. Which distribution channels will survive? Which publishers will survive? What will happen to authors? Will books become more readily available? Grab a good book and stay tuned.

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