This weekend, I’ll be speaking at the Writer’s Digest Conference about e-publishing. I’m in the process of updating my slides and information about e-book sales—which can be a confusing and murky issue since the reporting of such sales is not as standardized as print book sales (yet).
Meaning: You can not only find various data sets, you can also find many interpretations. Above is a regularly updated graph from a blogger who has been following e-book sales reported by AAP (Association of American Publishers). It’s a good visual of how sales have picked up in recent years. (Click through for more of his graphs.)
When authors ask me about what’s next for the publishing industry, I try to point them to metrics to keep their eye on—since I find it hard to predict what will happen next. In that vein, here are two posts from this past week that nicely complement one another:
- E-Books Outsell Print for Majority of Titles on USA Today Bestseller List by Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent. This article points to how, after the holidays, many traditionally published titles—the commercial bestsellers—are selling more units as e-book editions. The USA Today bestseller list is unique in that it combines print and e-book sales AND indicates which edition sold more copies. What authors should keep an eye on: Watch how many of the titles sell better in e-editions versus print. (It does switch back and forth!) Also look at which genres seem to repeatedly outsell in electronic editions. It’s impossible to draw any conclusions from only one week or one month, but if you watch the list for an entire year, you’ll stay grounded in industry discussions about just how much e-books are “taking over” or not. Publishers Lunch (sub required) recently noted that the inclusion of e-book sales (along with print sales) in USA Today’s list “barely” changed their reporting of overall 2011 bestsellers. But keep an eye on the composition of those sales.
- Top Self-Published Kindle E-Books of 2011: A Report by Piotr Kowalczyk at Teleread. This helpful parsing of Amazon data helps answer questions such as: Is the 99-cent price tag for e-books wearing out? Can we expect more success stories from independent e-book authors? Will self-published e-books continue to expand? Some of the most interesting data here is the number of self-published titles in the Kindle Top 100 bestsellers. In the best months, self-published titles claimed 20-27% of those spots. What authors should keep an eye on (especially those looking to self-publish): Pay attention to the Kindle Top 100 bestsellers and if the share of self-published titles increases. Also keep an eye on what’s being charged for these titles—because the more that indie authors can charge (and the longer bestseller status can be maintained), the more viable the indie route.
- Finally, keep track of the appearance of self-published e-book authors on traditional bestseller lists. For instance, in USA Today’s 2011 bestseller list, two out of the 100 bestselling titles were self-published e-books. For the New York Times bestseller list, during the whole of 2011, eleven self-published e-book authors made it to the list. As Publishers Lunch noted (sub required), that’s not very many authors considering how widely the self-pub millionaire trend has been trumpeted. Let’s see if the number grows in 2012.
As a side note, while writing this post, it felt antiquated how bestseller lists still segment out sales by edition (hardcover, paperback, mass market, electronic). If these lists are printed to serve and inform readers—and perhaps that’s a huge assumption?—how much does this distinction matter, except to those inside the industry? How much do these distinctions serve to keep the old paradigms in place? (E.g., “hardcovers” are more important or meaningful than “paperbacks”?)
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.