Home » Big Publishing, Ebooks » E-book Sales Tumbled in October

E-book Sales Tumbled in October

3 March 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

E-book sales plunged in October, with sales of adult e-books dropping 22.0% in the month, compared to October 2014. Sales of children/ya e-books fell 44.7%, according to figures released by the Association of American Publishers through its StatShot program. Through October, e-book sales of adult books were down 6.5% compared to the first 10 months of 2014, and tumbled 44.7% in the children/ya category.

Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and HarperCollins have all reported that e-book sales were soft last year, and the AAP report (which includes data from all three companies) reflects that weakness.

While sales of e-books were dropping in October, sales of adult digital audio jumped 44.3%, and sales of hardcover and trade paperback rose 5.7%. In all, sales of adult books fell only 0.4% in October, and were up 2.6% in the first 10 months of 2015.

. . . .

 Total sales for all 1,205 publishers who reported figures to the AAP were down 5.2% in October, and fell 2.8% in the January-October period.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Big Publishing, Ebooks

32 Comments to “E-book Sales Tumbled in October”

  1. “Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and HarperCollins have all reported that e-book sales were soft last year … ”

    The plan to protect paper is working!

    For them, anyway. Everyone else just be happy to sell in whatever format readers want.

    • Most of the Big5 have estimated their ebook sales as around 1/3 of their sales. They don’t specify unit sales or revenue, but they don’t here either so I’ll just naively assume they are using consistent units in their accounting.

      A drop of 22% in 30% is 6.6% of 100%.
      An increase 5.7% in 70% is 3.99% of 100%.
      So the increase in paper did not cover the decrease in ebooks. Audio saw a huge jump, but overall sales were still down. Doesn’t look as bad over the last 10 months as for October alone. Did November and December reverse October’s losses? Tune in next quarter!

      Meanwhile, AuthorEarnings, which only looks at one very large outlet but looks at everyone on that outlet, did not report an overall decrease in ebook sales, but did note a large drop in Big5 sales. Not everyone choosing not to buy a Big5 ebook is instead buying Big5 print or audio. Some are leaving the Big5 market but not the book market.

      How’s agency working out for you?

  2. Soft for whom?
    Ohh, right…..

  3. Think they missed out the phrase “traditionally published” in the headline there 😉

  4. Maybe I’m an idiot, but can anyone explain to me why a privately held publisher would have any reason to report revenue details?

    • Some reasons that might apply:
      1. They hope to eventually go public or to be bought.
      2. They offer or plan to offer publicly traded bonds or notes.
      2. Ego.
      3. To help support or attract private investment by creating attention and a public source of information about performance, even if the information resulted from a company press release.

      • 4. To keep ‘some’ writers sending in their stories to be rejected (rather than them seeing how badly a publisher is doing and trying their luck elsewhere …)

      • 5. So that they get a chance to choose the words and put their own spin on it. I think DG had already let the cat out of the bag anyway.

    • Don’t forget that publicly held companies don’t have to reveal all their numbers. Only those numbers required by federal law. That’s why we know so little about Amazon’s sales.

    • steven zacharius

      If an independent publisher is a member of the AAP they would likely report their sales. We certainly do so that we get as good a picture of the industry as we can.
      Why are all the responses so negative just because a company would report sales to the AAP? Is there something wrong with doing that? If there was greater transparency with all accounts reporting their sales there would be a lot less speculation taking place.

  5. October-to-October… in March. Industry standard, indeed. Fast lane, at that.

    Take care

    • That was my thought too. October was like four months ago. They’re only reporting this now?

    • steven zacharius

      The delay is due to the reporting delays from online retailers as to when they report their sales to publishers. Then the publishers have to ingest the data from a few dozen different retailers and verify the data. Then the data is given to the AAP or to PubTrack Digital (Nielsen) and the free books have to be deleted as well. So it’s a little bit of a cumbersome project and not as simple as it seems.

      • Sorry, I’m not buying it. They’re not going to convince me that tracking their own sales is harder than calculating inflation.

        To say nothing of the phrase “delays from online retailers”.

        And how do they _verify_ that? Do they check how many ebooks they have left in the warehouse?

        The whole thing is, at best, 20th century hardware accounting trying to put on sheep’s clothing.

        Take care.

        • steven zacharius

          This isn’t a sinister plot, this is a fact. The online retailers don’t report sales to publishers until roughly 30 days following the end of the month. Then keep in mind that there are dozens of ebook retail accounts providing data in different formats that has to be ingested. Next the accounting department verifies that the amounts paid are correct by spot checking or auditing. It all takes time. Do you think the delay is intentional? There’s no reason for publishers to delay reporting the information. Keep in mind it’s not one title that’s being reported to a publisher but thousands and thousands or tens of thousands to some of the big 5. It has nothing to do with 20th century hardware.

          • There’s no reason for publishers to delay reporting the information.

            I can think of a few reasons…

          • I don’t think it’s intentional. I think it’s incompetent.

            _Supposing_ that retailers don’t report in 30 days (ahem!) after end of month, it’s ONLY dozens of accounts. They need 2 more months for that? Number crunching of _dozens_ of accounts can be handled by a decent workstation. The data I had in 2014 stated several hundred new books per year and publisher (800 for Hachette, 250 new writers for PRH –and 15000 total–).

            That’s not quantum mechanics. I’ve dealt with harder Excel spreadsheets [*]. Sinister plot? It didn’t cross my mind until you mentioned it. Negligence, incompetence…? In spades.

            Sure, some of those have to be checked by hand, or by swapping emails back and forth, or… Now, either that still produces errors (and so, could be approximated earlier, since the end result STILL is suspect) or the data is FINAL 4 months after a sale.

            In which case… why do we need reserves against returns in twice a year statements?

            Now, see what you’ve done? NOW I’m calling it. It’s either gross incompetence or gross malice. I really didn’t think about it before. And I would have settled for the former, considering that Hachette still said “Orbit is the new Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint at Hachette Book Group” in 2014, barely 8 years after the fact. Thank you for that.

            Take care.

            [*] Badly: they really didn’t work well with that much data. Not my choice. Still, they _worked_, and there are better options available. Hell, Excel might be able on its own, now.

            • steven zacharius

              Why would you think publishers would intentionally delay reporting ebook sales? What’s your conspiracy theory that I’m missing? It makes no difference to the individual publisher as to the reporting of ebook sales….it’s only for use to the AAP or Nielsen. Why don’t you concern yourself more with the fact as to why Kindle doesn’t report sales at all? I also have no idea how long it takes AAP to process the data from 1200 different publishers. You’re talking about over 1000 files, many are very large. Why is this even a discussion? It has no relevance at all as to when ebook sales are reported?
              And we’re not talking about reserves against returns….these are ebooks.

              • “Why don’t you concern yourself more with the fact as to why Kindle doesn’t report sales at all?”

                I had a suspicion we would end here.

                Have a nice time.

        • Would you believe that between getting the numbers, watching everyone talk about DG’s numbers, and the need to make stockholders happy, it took them this long to decide which way to spin it? 😉

          • How do you figure that this is a spin? You’re trashing as to why it takes so long for publishers to report eBook sales to a private organization which has no bearing at all on the business. It’s after the fact reporting and I was explaining the process that causes the delay.
            The fact that kindle doesn’t report sales is a far more significant issue considering their size of the business. Publishers are reporting sales accurately by title and all you have from kindle to use is a slice in time report not even calculated by the owner of the data.
            What difference would it make to you as to how long it takes eBook sales to be reported to an association of publishers?

  6. LOL. Which e-book sales plummeted? Overpriced TradPub e-books, mayhap? 🙂

  7. October 2015 was my best month of gains since April 2015.

    For every business that’s failing there’s another on the other side of town that’s thriving.

  8. The reality of this data collection is very different from what you folks think. If you have never participated in an industry-wide data collection effort you have no idea what it is like. In this specific case, you all are overlooking a number of unfortunate realities. This effort isn’t just ebooks. It is print and audio as well. Many (maybe most) of the smaller publishers don’t report these numbers directly. The reporting is done by distributors. So there is a level of indirection there. Also, the system can only be as fast as the slowest part can reliably deliver. Not to mention that publishing isn’t exactly the most technically sophisticated industry around.

    [The scars of having dealt with collecting energy industry data are showing]

    • Of course, you may find it amusing that when the problem of waiting on the official statistics became problematic for the client I was working for at the time (15 years ago), guess what they did? They paid me to develop a webscraping system to collect data from various websites so the client could predict the direction of the upcoming statistics. Maybe a big publisher should pay somebody to scrape data from Amazon’s web site to … Oh, never mind.

      • I think the attitude towards reporting may be an industry culture thing. In the tech industry, companies report as little as possible and only such information that is legally required or provides some obvious benefit. Information about innovation, markets, product performance, intentions etc. cost money and time to obtain and provides significant competitive advantage. Of course in this world Amazon is going to be as reticent as possible, why share hard-gathered information with B&N or Wal-Mart? While Amazon does not actually publish and so does not allocate printing resources to specific genre lines, nor court authors, Amazon still uses sales information to assign marketing resources out of their existing inventory; why share that Intel with competitors? We can see the benefit of this, had Hachette known how indie eBook sales had been growing they might not have argued for agency pricing.

        • While Amazon does not actually publish and so does not allocate printing resources to specific genre lines, nor court authors[…]

          I’m not trying to throw shade, and I don’t think it invalidates your point at all, but are you sure about that statement regarding Amazon not publishing? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you here, but I think Amazon does absolutely publish—does it quite well, actually—and has several genre imprints.

          Welcome to Amazon Publishing

          • You’re right, Caymon. Amazon does have its own publishing division and Amazon Publishing courts authors and supports several different genres.

            • Sidenote: I really enjoy your site, PG, and have lurked and read it for a while now. Thanks for hosting this spot on the web!

          • Thanks for the correction. So, Amazon is directly in competition with both publishers and retailers, and Amazon collects the most detailed, timely, and accurate data in the entire industry of consumer behavior. They not only know who the real best sellers are, they know the most compelling *pages* in their books. Amazon would gain nothing sharing such information. Amazon doesn’t use it’s information for competitive advantage only in the book sector, but in concert with selling everything. Every book purchase a customer makes is a little Trojan Horse of marketing information and a customer loyalty device that is used to sell… Well, everything.

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