Everyone’s Reporting on eBook Sales But Who Is Telling the Truth?

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Everyone's Reporting on eBook Sales But Who Is Telling the Truth? by Frances CaballoI just got off the phone with a man trying to sell me insurance. He asked me what I did, and I told him I was a writer. “Fiction or nonfiction?” he asked. “Fiction.”

He said excitedly that he had just finished a couple of novels lately, and that he really enjoyed them — “The first books I’ve read in a few years,” he said. I asked him if he read them as paperbacks or eBooks, and his answer completely surprised me.

“Hard cover,” he said.

“Really?” I was astonished. I’m a writer, an instructor of creative writing, and I have a healthy budget for buying books. But I still almost never buy hard covers; I think their prices are far too high. The last hard cover book I got was a Christmas present.

“You plunk down $28 dollars for a hard cover?” I asked him.

Well, no, he admitted. He gets them second-hand from his father-in-law. He doesn’t generally buy books himself.

That made more sense to me.

Have eBook Sales Flattened, Or Is It Just Hype?

Thieving Forest by Martha M. ConwayLately there’s been a huge buzz about how eBook sales have flattened— I read one report in Publisher’s Marketplace that claimed sales were down by 8%; another report claimed 10%.

A third article reported that sales were actually up by 4%, but this, the journalist stated, was “essentially the same as flat.” It seems there’s quite a bit of variance in how sales are counted. But in any case, sales of eBooks aren’t doubling or tripling each year as they’ve done in the past.

Quite a few journalists and pundits are claiming that this fall in sales proves that people are returning to print books and that print books are not dead. Well, I certainly hope print books aren’t dead — I read both print and eBooks— but I’m not sure I agree with the first two conclusions. They seem like rather a jump.

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Might it be more of a matter of pricing?

Consider this analysis by Publisher’s Marketplace:

The Statistics: AAP

Yes, eBook sales as reported by publishers who provide monthly data to the AAP have fallen 10.5 percent, or $68 million, for the first 5 months of 2015. That was reported on September 1, and ebook sales have been down for five straight months, so it’s a continuing pattern rather than a new development. And the real shift was some time ago. eBook growth rates came down dramatically in the last quarter of 2012 and the market for traditional publishers, measured in dollars, has been roughly flat since the beginning of 2013.

The newspaper’s thesis that “eBook adopters are returning to print” should mean some kind of surge in AAP print sales. But you know what category is down more than 10 percent in the same period? Hardcover sales.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Are eBook adopters really returning to print? via CaballoFrances” quote=”Are eBook adopters really returning to print? via CaballoFrances”]

eBook Sales: Are They Up or Down? It’s Hard to Tell

Total AAP hardcover sales through May 2015 fell by $91 million — or 11.25 percent — down to $718 million. Those print sales are down more in percentage terms, and down more in aggregate dollars. You would not know that from reading this story.

Hard cover sales, like eBook sales, are also down. Considering that hard cover prices tend to be nearly double paperback prices, I’m not surprised that they are down. The conclusion I’m jumping to is: readers are not choosing based on format, but based on price.

Remember Hachette’s Beef with Amazon?

After the conflict with Hachette, Amazon stopped discounting eBooks for them and other big publishers, which they’d been doing since 2007 in an effort to build the eBook market.

Amazon said in effect: we know that people buy more eBooks at a price point of $2.99 – $9.99, and it’s your turn now to discount them. But, understandably so, the publishers wanted to set their own prices. So the prices went up.

Maybe that’s the reason that eBook sales have fallen? If the eBook price is similar to the paperback price, I might very well choose the paperback (unless I’m traveling, or I have limited space on my bookshelves, or I want to start reading immediately). Maybe eBook sales are down not because people want to read paper, but because the price for so many eBooks (Hachette’s, for one) went up.

This is actually good for me, as an indie publisher. My titles can compete in this marketplace because I can price them competitively. If Hachette decides to price its eBooks at $3.99, then I’m in trouble. But quite possibly it can’t do this because of all the middlemen involved who need a cut. Again, good for me — I have no middlemen!

I love paperbacks, and I hope they don’t go away. In fact, I don’t think they will. But I don’t want e-books to go away, either. I read on my kindle or my iPad when I’m traveling, or at the doctor’s office, or any number of places when I don’t want to carry something heavy. I’m glad I have the choice.

It’s an interesting and quickly changing landscape, this new wild west of publishing! I’m just along for the ride.

Pick up a copy of my list of favorite books AND my eBook Twitter Just for Writers. Download both of them now!


H70dgm8T_200x200About the author of this post: Martha Conway’s latest novel, Thieving Forest, was awarded a Silver Medal (Historical Fiction) in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, and is the 2014 North American Book Awards winner in Historical Fiction. It has been called “extraordinary” by the Akron Beacon Journal and “hypnotic” by Kirkus Reviews. Her first novel, 12 Bliss Street was nominated for an Edgar Award, and her short fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Quarterly, The Carolina Quarterly, and other publications. She has reviewed fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle and The Iowa Review, and is a recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship in Creative Writing. Martha has taught creative writing at UC Berkeley Extension and at Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio. She tweets ten-minute prompts and exercises every day on twitter (#10minprompt, #WritingExercise) via @marthamconway.

Sell More Books with These Tips by Frances CaballoAbout the author of this blog: I’m Frances Caballo, an author, podcaster and social media strategist and manager for writers. Find out more about about my services and check out my Social Media for Authors podcast on iTunes.

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  1. I also believe these “ebook sales are down” statistics for the most part exclude indie sales. By focusing on trad publishing, they fail to analyze the full picture. This link by Hugh Howey may give a fuller picture, though note it too suffers from incomplete data:

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