Over the past month, I’ve spoken to over a dozen large, medium and small publishers of ebooks and a handful of important ebook distributors which cater to indie authors. Many of them have shared with me their ebook retailer market share breakdown for the past three months (December, January and February). At the same time, due to the sensitivity of the matter (no publisher wants to publicly acknowledge what percentage of revenue comes from Amazon, for instance), many publishers officially declined to share data with me.
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Among the largest publishers, Barnes & Noble seems to still be solidly No. 2 behind Amazon, but both Apple and Amazon are gaining market share and B&N is losing it.
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One surprise in looking at large publishers is that Google kept on coming up as a retailer that is gaining market share.
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Among medium-sized publishers, Apple and Barnes & Noble are closer.
Among the medium-sized publishers I spoke with, some are making more money with Apple, and some with B&N. I was told that month-to-month, genre-to-genre and book-to-book it changes.
Among small publishers, Apple seems to have taken the market share lead.
I was told by small publishers that Apple has become very attentive to their needs while the opposite has happened at Barnes & Noble. Apple’s efforts, they told me, have paid off.
At a small publisher, one book can make a huge difference in retailer market-share over the course of a month. I was told several stories of how clever marketing by Apple for titles with momentum resulted in huge market-share swings in Apple’s direction over the course of a month or two. I was even told by one small publisher that for one book, Apple far eclipsed Amazon in sales.
Among indie authors, Barnes & Noble is likely the leader still, but it’s unclear.
One major distributor had Barnes & Noble in the lead, but not by much and with the margin shrinking. Another said Apple was far ahead.
“Apple is our No. 2 ebook retailer over the past year – and a strong No. 2,” said Matt Cavnar, co-founder of Vook, which distributes about 5,000 ebooks for authors, small- and medium-sized publishers and its own publishing operations.
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Among all categories, Amazon seems to be gaining market share.
Among all the groups we spoke with, the overall narrative seemed to be that Amazon and Apple were gaining market share and that Barnes & Noble was losing it.
The going thinking right now is that the shift away from agency pricing by the largest publishers has helped Amazon grow its ebook market share because it’s doing the most discounting. I don’t think that’s quite right. Amazon’s competitors are discounting, too.
What I think has happened is that because Nook, for instance, is now selling many, many titles without making a profit (or at a loss — I’m talking about best-selling titles from the publishers which were previously agency), the bleeding of 2011 and 2012, when the company was losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year, has turned to a full-on hemorrhage.