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E-book sales abate for Big Five

2 February 2016

From The Bookseller:

For those who predicted the death of the physical book and digital dominating the market by the end of this decade, the print and digital sales figures (see below) from the Big Five for 2015 might force a reassessment.

Somewhat smugly, The Bookseller predicted 2015’s e-book decline in these very pages back in 2013—and endured ire (much of it in digital form, unsurprisingly) at the time. We were attempting to be objective about e-books, acknowledging that they were (and are) an exciting, vital part of the industry—but that they were also just another format, and one that was (and is) in its relative infancy.

But sales have dropped. Or, at the very least, we can without a shadow of a doubt say that e-book volume slid for the Big Five publishers for the first time since the digital age began, collectively down 2.4% to 47.9 million units last year. That 2.4% drop is probably shallower than many observers would have predicted.

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The Big Five have a 56% share of 2015’s print volume through Nielsen BookScan. Assuming a broadly similar share in digital—the five probably garner a greater piece of the digital pie compared to other traditional publishers, but self-publishing makes up a decent percentage of e-books— that gives us 85.5 million e-books sold in Britain in 2015.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says “self-publishing makes up a decent percentage of e-books” substantially underestimates both the number of ebooks sold and the ebook revenue generated by indie authors.

However, at least it’s a nod in the general direction of what’s happening in the hidden Amazon ebook market not measured by the tools Big Publishing uses.

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Big Publishing, Ebooks, Non-US

19 Comments to “E-book sales abate for Big Five”

  1. Here is what I don’t get: Selling ebooks is tremendously easy. Buyers of ebooks are voracious. It is so incredibly easy to buy an ebook. No need to drive anywhere, no need to even leave one’s chair. Just browse on the tablet or computer or phone or eink reader, click a button and done. Heck, Amazon will send emails announcing new releases and hot deals and make it easy, easy, EASY to buy them. For the consumers it’s better than a minion feeding them peeled grapes.

    That the major publishers’ ebook sales are DOWN speaks of incompetence so bad/sad it’s embarrassing. For The Bookseller to boast of their predictive skills about the “decline” of ebooks makes me wonder if they are a) completely clueless about market realities, or b) enjoying a good laugh at the Big5’s expense.

    • Jaye, it’s not incompetence at all. On the contrary, for all the reasons you give, it’s actually a sign of extraordinary competence. The major publishers have all made it their particular goal is depress the sales of their properties in the ebook format. That was really hard to do. They even had to break the law to kickstart their efforts. But, they hung in there. Mission Accomplished!

      • They may have achieved their goal of depressing sales, William, but it’s a stupid goal. 😀

        • That I can agree with wholeheartedly.

        • We have to look at total profit rather than just eBook profit to judge the wisdom of what the fiction publishers did.

          It’s a linear programming problem where one has to adjust price and volume for a mix of goods to attain the max profit.

          One also has to consider the very real possibility that publishers are just as smart as independent authors, and see a limited future for print fiction. That extends the LP model over multiple years.

  2. I’ll be looking forward to Hugh Howey’s next Author Earnings post. If sales have dropped only for the Big five, then more of the top slots should be occupied by authors selling books below, say, six bucks.

    There should also be a decrease in the top slots (7,000, perhaps?) held by Big 5 authors.

    If both of the above are correct, then the shadow industry of non-ISBN purchasing authors are doing better than the official stats indicate.

    (BTW, I also wonder if the predicted sales per rank are off. I looked on KindleBoards for discussions of sales rank, and every time I see someone with books in the top 4,000 reveal their sales / borrows / KUs, they’re much lower than the numbers HH and Data Guy base their revenues on. I admit my innumeracy might be leading me astray; all the more reason to read a discussion about it.)

    • Not necessarily. The Big5 top sellers are very, very sticky. It’s far more likely a drop in Big5 sales only represents lost sales to mid-listers and debut authors.

    • The whole sales per rank thing is extraordinarily complex. The discrepancy you note doesn’t show that the numbers they use are incorrect. At those levels (top 4000), velocity matters a lot. The number of sales required to reach a spot in that range for a single ranking period should be far lower than the number AE uses to for its purposes, in my opinion.

  3. LOL. Under the article titled ‘Ebook Sales Abate for the Big Five’, they have related content links…

    Related Content
    – Big Five’s e-book sales stabilise
    – Amazon ups UK e-book sales five-fold

    Shhh, let’s see how long it takes them to make the connection…

  4. The Bookseller is happy the pig5 is selling less books in some formats? Very strange, you’d think they’d want more sales …

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics …

    Funny they don’t then chart the sales of paper/hard backed books to show the ‘win’ for the publishers — or did the pig5 lose numbers there too?

    • What do the BPH say in their SEC 10-Q filings? They have to list stuff that can materially effect their business. No blowing smoke or share holder lawsuits will appear.

      You’ll notice this article doesn’t have any direct quotes from BPH execs… So the article can be total propaganda.

    • Allen, I do wish you would stop calling them the pig5. It’s insulting to the pigs.

      • Sorry about that, but as you can see a ‘b’ turns into a ‘p’ when you lower the bar …

        I guess we could go with a ‘q’ because they’re not only losing their grip on the bar but going about things a$$backwards.

        Would that be insulting to any ‘qigs’ out there?

  5. They keep forgetting all the non-ISBN e-books. But we know about them and are getting paid for them. Who are they fooling?

  6. Funny how *now* they choose to report unit sales instead of total revenue. Or net profit.

    And, of course, the smallest drop was for the publisher to move to Agency last.

  7. Isn’t this pretty much what Amazon predicted would happen when the Big 5 insisted on pricing their e-books above $9.99? They made a big deal of saying that their data showed that the publishers would sell more e-books and make more money on e-books if they kept the prices lower, but the Big 5 insisted on going that route.

    And now, wouldn’t you know it, but their unit numbers are down from before they made that pricing change. Clearly it must because customers dislike e-books, not anything as far-fetched as price elasticity.

    Ahem.

  8. Pricing is the problem. Even for my favorite author I’m not willing to pay $18 for an Ebook. Especially when the paperback is at least $2 less.

  9. “E-book sales abate for Big Five”

    They’re overpriced, that’s why. Doh!

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