In partnership with Porter Anderson, I write and edit The Hot Sheet, an industry newsletter for authors. Over the last year, here are some of the most important things we shared about Amazon that every writer should know.
1. Amazon’s print book sales grew by 15% in 2016—as estimated by Author Earnings. This gain was primarily driven by Amazon’s own discounting on print.
To the extent that print is “back,” one can connect it to Amazon’s discounting. Since 2013, the traditional book publishing industry has enjoyed about a 3% increase in print book sales. However, print book sales have grown largely because Amazon sold more print books. Barnes & Noble’s sales declined by 6% in 2016, and sales from mass merchandisers (Target, Walmart, etc.) also declined.
2. Ebook sales at Amazon increased by 4% in 2016 (again, as estimated by Author Earnings), despite Big Five ebook sales declining. Nielsen’s Jonathan Stolper said at Digital Book World, “Price is the most important and most influential barrier to entry for ebook buyers, and the increase in price [at publishers] coincided with the decrease in sales.” Any talk about digital fatigue, the consumer’s nostalgia for print, or a preference for the bookstore experience isn’t supported by the sales evidence—which Author Earnings’ Data Guy was eager to point out. If print is back, it’s partly because consumers are unwilling to pay more (or about the same price) for an ebook.
3. Eight of the top 20 Kindle sellers in 2016 were from Amazon’s own publishing imprints. Amazon now has 13 active house imprints. In 2016 alone, it’s believed Amazon Publishing released more than 2,000 titles.
Furthermore, Amazon is the largest publisher of literature in translation. In 2014, AmazonCrossing surpassed all other US imprints and publishers in releasing translated fiction. In 2015, it published 75 translated books, 50 more than the next biggest publisher, Dalkey Archive Press.
4. Amazon has an estimated 65 million US Prime members. The most popular Prime feature remains free two-day shipping in the United States. Prime memberships are now believed to account for $7 billion in revenue each year, and a recent survey showed that Prime memberships are popular with the more affluent.
5. Amazon owns and operates three bricks-and-mortar bookstores, with five more on the way in 2017. They’re relatively small (3,500 square feet); the average Barnes & Noble is ten times that size. All the books are face out, so the emphasis is on curation, and no prices are listed. Prices are variable and depend on whether the customer is an Amazon Prime member.
6. When it comes to print book sales for the major publishers, Amazon represents roughly 50% of the pie; wholesalers, libraries, and specialty accounts are 25%; Barnes & Noble is in the teens; and independent bookstores are about 6-8% of the print book market.
7. Kindle Unlimited (KU), Amazon’s ebook subscription program, is estimated to represent about 14% of all ebook reads in the Amazon ecosystem (according to Author Earnings). KU costs $9.99/month and is strongly dominated by self-published books—none of the major publishers participate. KU’s biggest US competitor is Scribd.
8. Amazon is adding 100,000 jobs in the next 18 months. Meanwhile, other bricks-and-mortar retailers are suffering. Read more about this trend in the New York Times.
9. Audible’s customers are estimated to have listened to 2 billion hours of programming in 2016, double the 2014 figure. (Audible is owned by Amazon.) Audiobooks are the largest area of growth for the book publishing industry, and Audible is the No. 1 retailer in the US of audiobooks.
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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.