Home » Big Publishing, Ebooks » In solidarity with those who understand what is happening with eBook sales

In solidarity with those who understand what is happening with eBook sales

28 April 2017

From Talking New Media:

This post is about blogger solidarity… that is, it is response to the frustration expressed by Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader concerning the ongoing debate about eBook sales. He was reacting the recurring misreporting that eBook sales are down, when actually they are only down for the major publishers represented by the various trade associations.

Nate points to articles in some of the The Guardian, and The Telegraph, in particular, that can’t seem to get it through their heads that not all eBook sales are represented by the publishers that are members of these associations. There are other publishers, and self-publishers, that sell through other channels, and these sales won’t be included in the reports put out by the associations.

But there is another problem, that some media reporters are invested in believing that print is having a resurgence. There is, of course, no evidence for this, but faith is a powerful thing.

Now Nate covers the digital book field, but what is happening on that side of the business is happening on the magazine and newspaper side, as well. Despite falling print circulation and print advertising levels, there are those who simply want to believe that digital media may not be all its cracked up to be.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media and thanks to The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG wonders if the reporters and publications disseminating the ebooks are dead/print is back meme believe they can actually change the behavior of their readers. Or if the authors first developed sentience 15 minutes ago.

“Printed books are the new black.”

“All the right people will be carrying hardcovers this summer.”

“Look for more beautiful covers on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account.”

“Headless body in topless bar . . . with a book!!!”


Big Publishing, Ebooks

49 Comments to “In solidarity with those who understand what is happening with eBook sales”

  1. “PG wonders if the reporters and publications disseminating the ebooks are dead/print is back meme believe they can actually change the behavior of their readers.”

    My guess would be that most of the people repeating it don’t believe it, or believe that they will change people’s behavior. They are simply repeating it because that is the mandate they were given by those above them. (Or they know those above them want to hear them repeat it.)

    Why are those above pushing this meme? Possibly they are completely out of touch. More likely they are stalling for time. I suspect much of this is simply to try to convince new authors to keep submitting to the Big Publishing concerns and even more likely, to delay those authors still in the system from fleeing.

    This is going to break like a dam at some point. It’s already silly for them to keep lying, and they are already hurting their revenues by not dealing with the reality of the market place. At some point the meme will collapse.

    Kind of like the only angry writers self-publish meme. That one seems dead.

    • That one could come back once the hostages realize they’re being lied to. Raising false hopes breeds added resentment.

    • Joel Friedlander

      But couldn’t the same quote, “PG wonders if the reporters and publications disseminating the ebooks are dead/print is back meme believe they can actually change the behavior of their readers.” apply to people who assume they can easily change the lifelong habits of print book readers?

      • Felix J. Torres

        There’s no need there.
        Fading eyesight is all
        the convincing lifelong readers need. 🙂

        • It’s odd we don’t see many articles about Audiobooks killing ebooks or print books or the human brain. Audiobook sales keep going up, in spite of audiobooks being expensive.

          • Felix J. Torres

            As you said: audiobooks are expensive.
            Expensive to produce, which limits who can produce them, and expensive to buy, which boosts reportable reader spend.
            What’s not to like, from the establishment side?

        • Joel Friedlander

          Sorry to hear about your eyesight, Felix, luckily I don’t seem to have that problem.

          • Felix J. Torres

            Mine is still fine.

            But sooner or later everybody gets old.
            If ebooks haven’t won them over on merit by then, necessity will prevail.
            Or they stop reading. 😉

      • (Hi, Joel!!) I”m a former print-diehard. I used to make fun of ereaders. I liked, but did not love, my Sony back in 2007. I was fine with the first keyboard Kindle and Nook. Then the really good ereaders showed up.

        Now, I, the gal who spent 4 to 5K a year on print books buys maybe $200-300 on print books a year (usually reference works or Bibles). And with ebooks being cheaper, I can get as many books as in the past for less. Maybe $1500 per year instead of $4500.

        Plus, aging eyes. Being able to make any ebook a “large-print” is priceless to me. And last time I went to the doctor’s office, I noticed folks reading NOT paperbacks, but on their phones and me on my reader.

        I have 3 thousand print books (give or take) in my library, and I’m about to get rid of most of them (as I near retirement age) I find it hard to read smaller print–gives me a pain in my eyes.

        A beautifully designed print book is still a high pleasure for me, no question. But I don’t expect our economy to be a boomer again (I think the US is on the downside of its reign), and so being able to save space (smaller home without 3K books and dozens of bookshelves) and to save money (ebooks at .99 to 4.99 generally, compared to what I used to pay for print, 3x to 30x that), and to adjust the size of print, and to carry a library in my purse–it adds up to WOW for me.

        Those won over this once print-diehard.

        I also consider the damage I sustained to some books in my collection from 1. aging (yellow, icky pages, even though they are in a/c environment) 2. insects (one of my leather Bibles has a bughole of some sort all the way through 1/3rd of it’s depth, cover through pages 3. water damage when roof leaks happened unexpectedly, showering on books. And then there’s theoretical 4: I live in hurricane alley. If a hurricane destroys my house or even just the library, those books are gone. My ebooks are still in the cloud or on a flashdrive or on readers I could easily drop into waterproof safes, as they don’t take up much room.

        My 10 y/old niece reads both print and ebooks. She has a Nook and a smartphone. And ebooks of decent appearance and quality are still a relatively new thing. They will get better and technology will help with that.

        Print will never go away, but as people with aging eyes realize how much nicer it is to control brightness (I have early cataracts and I keep the reader on highest light setting to see better) and font size and it bookmarks for them automatically and their books go with them on their smartphones….the plusses are mad.

        And if ecologically-speaking, young green-aware people think: “Oh, I can save trees and ink resources and transporation costs for all those books , that is, OIL, maybe we should go electronic?” There’s a movement waiting to happen. Especially if these same green-aware folks realize they can live a bit roomier in “tiny carbon-footprint spaces” with 3000 books–as I have in print– in a space the size of their palms. 😀

        • Felix J. Torres

          Print books will always endure, as objects d’art and decoration if nothing else.

          I too have an accumulation of thousands of pbooks: a room in the house dedicated to it with two custom-built bookshelves, 11 ft long by 7 high, one spaced for hardcovers and one for paperbacks. The only time I’ve been in it in the last year was to drop a precautionary bug-killing bomb. There’s good stuff I might want to revisit…some day… Real.Soon.Now.

          But for now ebooks keep me busy enough.

          Being a techie, I’m more interested in content than presentation and ebooks suit me just fine. Always have, going back to the PDA era last century.

          I don’t bother evangelizing because I figure folks will either see the merits on their own or be as annoyed by it as book sniffers annoy me.

          I live and let die.

  2. Deck chairs on the Titanic, and nobody’s really supposed to notice, anyway. Those of us who do are off writing books.

    • Exactly! They keep playing that song, and the crew keeps moving the chairs, but it’s a futile effort to hide the gaping hole below the water line.

  3. Personally, I think the likes of the Guardian and the Big Five are pushing the ebooks-are-dead line so hard because they desperately want to believe it.

    The Big Publishing business model – with its emphasis on treating distributors (i.e. bookstores) better than authors – is not fit for purpose in a marketplace where authors can walk away and publish their work without a middleman.

    That has got to be terrifying, if you’re a middleman.

    Just think: not only your job, but your friends’ jobs, your employees’ jobs – all at risk.

    And what does it mean if you’re going to survive? Changing business model to something that fits the brave new world of e-publishing will mean losing staff in some departments, and changing working methods. Marketing won’t be about schmoozing booksellers, but attracting the attention of readers. Different market, different techniques. More change.

    Yes, Big Publishing could probably change its business model, but it’s a bit like one of those huge quarter-mile-long container ships changing direction: you might toot the horn now, but you won’t complete the turn for miles. And by then you might have hit the rocks.

    Logically, the thing to do is to toot that horn and hope you can drag the ship around to the new heading in time – but people don’t think like that. If it’s dangerous and difficult – which it will be, for Big Publishing – then people have a tendency to shut their eyes and hope it will all just go away.

    I was talking to an author who’s signed with Bookouture. And I found myself thinking, “there’s a publisher whose ship is pointed in the right direction” – Bookouture as they are now is what I think publishers will end up becoming in the future.

    Of course, Bookouture has been bought by Hachette, so how long Bookouture stays forward thinking and oriented towards ebooks and readers is a good question.

    But no, I don’t think it’s stupidity or dishonesty on the part of Big Publishing and the print news. I think it’s pure terror, deserving of pity.

    • “I think it’s pure terror, deserving of pity.”

      I might have more pity for them if they didn’t abuse their pens of writers quite so much.

      As new writers are finding better odds at getting to their readers (and getting paid) by skipping these middlemen, I say cast them loose and let them drift, the tide is turning and the current will take them to the rocks soon enough. And if they manage to drift clear of the rocks then they’ll soon be out of sight of land (and ‘out of sight – out of mind’.)

    • They’re tooting the horn hoping the rock will move, because that’s worked so well for them so far … or the water will suddenly rise and they’ll just sail right over the top of that pesky rock.

    • Theo — +1

    • “Logically, the thing to do is to toot that horn and hope you can drag the ship around to the new heading in time – but people don’t think like that. If it’s dangerous and difficult – which it will be, for Big Publishing – then people have a tendency to shut their eyes and hope it will all just go away.”

      With this mob it’s more like closing their eyes and full speed ahead.

      “Of course, Bookouture has been bought by Hachette, so how long Bookouture stays forward thinking and oriented towards ebooks and readers is a good question.”

      I only came across Bookouture recently and thought they had a good model. The chances totally depend on whether Hachette can let them run their own race including with pricing. I don’t think the odds of this happening are very good. I fear for the poor authors who have contracts with them and now find Hachette involved.

      • I am published with Bookouture, and I believe they will keep their model — at least, the founder, Oliver Rhodes, has assured us authors that it is so, that nothing will change, unless it’s the opportunity for print books with Hachette. The reason Hachette bought BK is precisely because their model works, ie, low prices, intensive markting, digital first, good royalties. Bookouture has constantly several books in the Top 100 UK — currently for example number 2, and several number 1s in the past. They know what they are doing, and at least one Big 5 has noticed. They would be foolish to change something that works so well. They are making a killing, and so are some of the top authors, such as Angela Marsons. Why would Hachette want to change that?

        • “Why would Hachette want to change that?”

          For the same reason they price ebooks higher than paper books, I suppose.

          • But why would they move from a strategy that is clearly working (BK’s low prices) back to one that clearly isn’t (high digital prices).
            It wouldn’t make sense.

            What they will most probably do now is pick the best-selling digital books that BK has published, and publish them as paperbacks. It’s the reverse strategy, and makes far more sense.

            BK’s authors have been reassured by Oliver that nothing is going to change; he’s got a brilliant working formula and Hachette knows that. He will (or has) become digital publisher of Hachette UK and will join the board. Of course when the change was announced there was a bit of uncertainty among the authors about what it would mean going forward, but in the end I think we are all confident that the success formula will continue.

            • This article explains what is going on pretty well, I think:


              • Many thanks for posting this Sharon. Much appreciated!

                And, as an emerging writer, I love your optimism and encouragement.

                The best to you.

            • “It wouldn’t make sense.”

              To you or to them?

              Their (losing) battle is twofold.

              One, they(for the most part) and the rest of the qig5 control paper/hardback books, PoD isn’t that big a thing (yet) so they’re beating the drums that ebooks are failing and paper is here to stay.

              Two, they’re trying to convince readers that the more you pay for an ebook the better it must be. Lowering their prices to indie levels would ruin the message and readers might try those cheaper indie ebooks and like them. Sadly for them this isn’t working out as they’d hoped because the readers are figuring out that overpriced trad-pub books can be just as bad (and sometimes even worse) than that indie stuff out on Amazon.

              The ‘only’ reason for Hachette to buy Bookouture is to kill it before it makes them look any dumber than it already has. Well, that and possibly to gain control of all the contracts they have with the writers. (Any bets those contracts don’t have anything in them to keep Hachette from cranking up the ebook prices to kill their sales?)

              • Well, we shall see. I’ve just signed a new 2-book contract with Bookouture. Hachette is not mentioned in it, and I doubt they are the ones to determine prices; BK does seem quite independent. I’m sure Oliver is savvy enough, and commited enough, not to let the baby die; he will have negotiated protections for his way of doing things.

                • I do hope that you are correct, it just seems like the big guys only buy the little guys to get them out of the way.

                  When I had to deal more with computers, we watched Microsoft do the three ‘E’s over and over again to small companies that had something they wanted (or were getting in their way.)


        • Thanks for posting this, Sharon. I liked the article you linked to. I had only come across articles mirroring the press release. It sounds like things will be okay as long as Hachette leaves things to Oliver. Let’s hope they do.

        • I used to work for a successful mail order/web company that was bought by a bricks and mortar retailer. We were also told that they bought us for our expertise.

          Within a year, they were insisting we change our business to work like theirs. Profits fell and customers were angry, but headquarters knew best. Within three years they were selling off the remnants to a different mail order/web company and we were getting lovely WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) packets.

          Having been through mergers and acquisitions multiple times before, I laughed at the executive speeches. I knew we were dead ducks the minute they started talking about “synergy.”

          I’m much happier working for myself.

      • @ Darryl

        “I fear for the poor authors who have contracts with them and now find Hachette involved.”

        Yet another excellent reason for writers to steer well clear of ANY contracts with ANY publisher (other than their own imprint/dba), no matter how “enlightened” or ethical said publisher might be. One never knows when a buy-out/acquisition might occur…and what the resultant consequences might be. 🙁

        • Deciding to go with Bookouture was the best publishing decision I ever made in my life. It’s brought life and progress into my writing, after ten years of stagnation and frustration. And I’m willing to bet it will get even better. I’m not the one to live in fear. I would recommend them to any writer in a similar position.

  4. Those who believe this stuff should be encouraged to keep believing.

  5. Yes – it was all over the increasingly unreliable BBC TV this week, adding to my tendency to swear at the television. I posted something about it on Facebook because a significant proportion of my friends list on there are writers who are self publishing, or with small publishers, or a mixture of both, all of them selling large numbers of eBooks, none of which will be in those so called statistics! They trotted out the old ‘nobody retains information read on a Kindle’ thing as well.

    • As one of your FB friends, I’m one who argued vehemently for ebooks when this meme went around. It was everywhere. I am sick and tired of the “I prefer REAL books” cry into the dark. For goodness’ sake. As if when I sit down to write my novel I’m thinking, it’s only digital so it’s a fake book.

      • You’re so right. It’s ridiculous. And one thing they always seem reluctant to discuss is how – here in the UK at least – most popular fiction paperbacks are circulated between several people, (readers will often tell you that they lent their copy to all their friends, and you just smile kindly!) or bought second and third hand in ‘charity shops’ – whereas individual readers will often take a punt on a reasonably priced eBook. The reality is that – at a time when just getting the word out there is the big hurdle for all of us – any readers who like the work are good readers as far as most of us are concerned!

  6. I do both ebooks and soft bounds in several genres, including fiction and nonfiction. My sales in both formats are increasing, though I do admit that my Kindle sales increase while Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc continue to decline. I just try to keep active in as many formats as I can. If I had the voice for it, I would do audio, but, alas, I do not.

  7. It’s more a case of lazy journalists just running a press release without putting any thought into it. I don’t have a degree in economics, but it seems obvious enough to me that if the ebook is the same price or higher than the paper book, most people will go for the paper one.

    • Economics would recognize varying tastes and preferences. Some prefer paper. Some prefer eBooks.

      If a consumer prefers eBooks to paper, it’s reasonable that he may also be willing to pay more for the eBook.

      Anecdotes are no substitute for economic analysis, but I’d gladly pay more for an eBook novel than a paper book novel.

      For most nonfiction, I’d pay for the paper book even if the eBook was free.

  8. I look forward to seeing Hachette paying authors 45% royalties on ebooks, giving them reasonable contracts, abandoning the rights grab and pricing their ebooks competitively.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  9. Meh, just because it’s coming from the mouths of trad publishers, doesn’t mean it isn’t true for many self-publishers. I’m seeing it everywhere: ebook sales ARE down for some of us.

    • Doesn’t mean it has anything to do with a “print resurgence”. A fair amount of readers have switched the bulk of their reading from buying to renting. (Aka, Kindle Unlimited.)

      Readers are changing their behavior in other ways, too: library ebook use in increasing dramatically and stockpiling is declining as it sinks in that ebooks don’t go out of print so wishlisting titles for future purchase is replacing kneejerk impulse buying.

      More changes are on the way. The game is barely starting.

      • No, I agree with you there. This has nothing to do with print making a comeback.

  10. Felix J. Torres

    The truth is nobody truly knows what is going on with ebook sales and certainly nobody in the media or the publisher associations.

    First of all, because they look at the market through the wrong metric; reader spend. Average ebook prices have been generally decreasing for a decade now. Back in 2007 when the Kindle came out, the $9.99 price on selected bestsellers was meant to be a temporary promotional price–these days it is for most readers a price *cap*, a price beyond which they will rarely if ever venture. Amazon itself, when it launched its APub imprints priced the ebooks in the $7-8 range–today they typically run $4.99 (or less, when on sale). The BPH’s efforts to force price controls on the market has simply resulted in declines of their own product and a donation of market share to other publishers and to Amazon at the retail level. It says nothing about consumer preferences other than that many of them refuse to pay the BPH’s prices.

    Second, buying isn’t the only way readers get their hands on ebooks to read. There are subscription services. Public libraries. PD libraries. Gutenberg has been slowly reformatting its collection from plain text to mobi and epub formats. Feedbooks’ PD offerings have always been nicely formatted epub. And then there are the permafree and promotional free books. Readers don’t always go hunting for a specific title or author. Sometimes they just browse for whatever free ebook catches their eye. Quite a few readers do this exclusively.

    Third, eBooks appeal more strongly to avid readers than to casual readers and avid readers have long been constrained by time and money which is why they were (and are) more willing to sample Indie authors. And why they continually hunt for bargains. (see above.) They also tend to hoard books for future reading. It is far from unlikely that most avid readers have reached the point where they are now time constrained rather than budget limited and have slowed their acquisition rate.

    Fourth, nobody knows what the “natural” sales rate of ebooks is supposed to be. The fact is the ebook market has not been allowed a normal adoption process like other technologies. Instead, starting in 2010 it has seen a continuous series of “game changers” and disruptions that have distorted the market in ways nobody can even begin to quantify. First, it was the Price Fix conspiracy driving readers towards lower cost ebooks. Then it was B&N moving the eReader market toward near-cost pricing, resulting in an explosion of ereader sales verging on a fad. All those new adopters started building up ebook libraries and hoarding titles for future reads. Then came the antitrust settlement and a few hundred million dollars worth of ebook purchase credits added to readers’ accounts followed by a couple years of BPH discounting and a second injection of hundreds of millions in ebook credits after Apple lost the case. Then came the foolish restoration of Agency price fixing. Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, and Scribd subscriptions. More recently Prime Reading on top of Kindle first and the Kindle Lending Library perk for Prime Subscribers.

    Trying to quantify the ebook ecosystem is like trying to determine the baseline state of a lake where people keep dropping in exploding grenades and depth charges.

    We’ve all seen the regular Author earnings reports showing the growth of Indie publishing, most of which is invisible to the media and the Publishing associations. So we at least have a hint of the size of the paid ebook market but the full extent of ebook adoption goes beyond sales.

    We have no way of knowing how many people actually read ebooks ocassionally, regularly, or exclusively. We have no credible way of knowing how many ebooks they each buy much less read. Or how many read on dedicated gadget, phones, tablets, or PCs. (Or TVs! I recently verified the KINDLE CLOUD READER works beautifully on the XBOX web browser. A lot of Smart TVs are coming with built-in browsers. And then there’s the hordes of generic Android streaming set-top boxes.)
    Reader behavior is a total unknown and without a handle on their behavior all that we have is bulk numbers. Useful to some extent but useless to identify even vaguely useful correlations, much less establish any kind of causation.

    The zombie memes will continue because the few things we do know to a certainty point to a slow, drawn out decline of establishment power. And that is not good news for the establishment of which the media and Publisher and Retailer associations are beholden to. So they try and continue to try mold public perception, thinking they can slow down the migration enough that they can have “peace in their time”.

    Wishful thinking, really.

    • I completely agree with your comment. I just checked my Kindle library, and it has 8812 ebooks that I’ve purchased from Amazon (some were free). I also have a lot of ebooks in my personal documents that came from Instafreebie, Book Funnel, Net Galley, publishers, or authors that are not factored into that count. I am buying as many ebooks as ever, but I barely buy any from the major publishers since the price jumped when they forced the return of the Agency Model (I only buy their ebooks if they’re steeply discounted during a sale). Now my money goes to small publishing houses and indie authors who sell affordable ebooks. I’m a voracious reader, but I refuse to buy an ebook that costs more than the paperback version (and even sometimes the hardcover version, and I’m not counting used books). Ebooks come with fewer rights than print books, and they cost publishers less since they don’t incur printing, warehousing, or shipping costs. I feel like they’re trying to force me back into reading print books, but that won’t happen. The only print books I buy are cookbooks. I will simply give my money to companies and authors who price their ebooks reasonably. I can live without any author, no matter how much I love their writing. Plus, I have thousands of ebooks I’ve never read – more than I can read in a lifetime. You hit the nail on the head. I don’t believe the major publishers haven’t connected the dots that their decrease in ebook sales is in direct correlation with the return of the Agency Model and ebook price fixing. They simply refuse to admit it.

  11. Yep. Big Print is coming back–just like Big Coal and buggy whips.

    • Coal is doing better than buggy whips. It accounts for 30% of US electricity generation. In China it’s about 70%.

      • Felix J. Torres

        Coal feeds and clothes a lot of people.
        Warms a whole lot more.
        Going to be a looooonggg time before that goes away. Mostly because its biggest detractors are also against its most viable challengers.

  12. As someone who’s been self-publishing on Kindle since 2010, there’s no question sales are very much down in the past 2 years. It doesn’t take anywhere near as many sales to reach the top 1,000 as it used to.

    I know because my sakes ranks are better than ever, but number of copies sold is way down.

    • This is true. I recently hit the Top 100 on Amazon with what I would consider not a great deal of books sold. It was certainly a lot less than it has been in the past.

    • Total sales can increase as average sales decrease. This happens when the rate of increase in available books exceeds the rate of increase in sales.

      If we have that situation, then we would also expect to see a lower threshold for entry to the top 1,000.

      Each author’s sales can decrease while total sales increase. It’s an indication, but not demonstration, that supply increase exceeds demand increase. If that is the case, the next thing to look for is a price decrease.

  13. PS– I’m a very happy self-publisher, just being honest about the shrinking market. A few years ago I’d have to sell 50 books a day to reach the top 5,000…now I can attain that same sales rank with only 2 sales and 2K pages read.

    My sense is that most Kindles are now used for games and videos. The Kindle Fire introduced the decline of the Kindle as an e-reader, because books are not as addictive as games and videos.

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