Traditional publishers’ ebook sales drop as indie authors and Amazon take off

20 May 2018

From GeekWire:

Ebook sales are dying. Ebooks are insanely popular.

If the short definition of cognitive dissonance is holding two contradictory ideas to be true, ebooks are about as dissonant as digital content gets.

Yet ebooks may also represent a chapter in the still-being-written story of how keeping track of what’s happening with content hasn’t always kept pace with the technology that’s transformed it.

Let’s start with the bad news. Two new sets of numbers covering 2017 show ebook sales are on the decline, both in terms of unit and dollar sales.

The first, released in April by market research firm NPD’s PubTrack Digital, saw the unit sales of ebooks fall 10 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. In absolute numbers, that meant the roughly 450 publishers represented saw ebook sales drop from 180 million units to 162 million over a year’s time.

The second, just released by the American Association of Publishers, reported a decline in overall revenue for ebooks, a year-to-year decrease of 4.7 percent in 2017. AAP tracks sales data from more than 1,200 publishers.

This ebook decline occurred in an overall publisher revenue environment that AAP said was essentially flat in 2017. So some other kinds of book formats that AAP watches, like hardback books, went up as ebooks went down. For its part, NPD says when combining print and ebook unit sales, ebooks’ percentage of the total dropped from 21 percent in 2016 to 19 percent in 2017.

. . . .

On the surface it would seem like all of this is going to come as a surprise to boosters who thought ebooks would replace traditional paper book publishing completely.

But there are three key words to keep in mind: “traditional book publishing.” And that’s the good ebook news.

Because the very same technology that allowed traditional publishers to create and sell ebooks also allowed authors to do the same — directly to readers.

NPD and AAP don’t measure those indie sales. Centralized reporting of direct-from-author sales is tougher to come by, but by all anecdotal measures the independent market has taken off, notably in the also-still-large category of adult fiction.

. . . .

One source of numbers for online book sales, including for indie ebooks, is the website Author Earnings. It recently estimated that traditional publisher reporting is, “now missing two-thirds of U.S. consumer ebook purchases, and nearly half of all ebook dollars those consumers spend.”

. . . .

For all categories of ebooks, Author Earnings figures purely “indie” publishing accounted for at least 38 percent of ebook units and 22 percent of ebook dollars in the last nine months of 2017. And that doesn’t include micro presses, Amazon’s imprints, and what it calls “single-author mega imprints” (think J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore).

. . . .

[M]ore than half of SFWA’s membership has done some kind of independent publishing. Importantly, SFWA said, there was no apparent difference in range of income between indie and traditionally published members.

Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon distributes a lot of independently published ebooks, made it a point to note in his annual letter to shareholders that, “Over a thousand independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”

. . . .

Part of the apparently increasing shift of authors to indie status may be about that money. “In traditional publishing, the writer sees a sliver of the profits — 5-15 percent,” SFWA President Cat Rambo, herself a hybrid author, told me. “In small press publishing, that number goes up significantly, and indie writers get to keep the biggest portion of the pie.”

. . . .

But Rambo also suspected the decline in traditional publishers’ ebook sales may due to pricing, a potentially Titanic-sized problem of publishers’ own making.

“When I see an ebook that sells for twice the price of the paperback version, either someone has lost their mind, is asleep at the wheel, or is deliberately steering the ship towards an iceberg,” she said.

Link to the rest at GeekWire

His Mysterious Lady

18 May 2018

Mrs. PG was happy to see one of her regencies was the Number 1 Amazon Regency Bestseller yesterday – His Mysterious Lady

Living a sheltered life, PG was unaware that Amazon has two Regency bestseller lists – Books > Romance > Historical > Regency and  Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Historical Romance > Regency. Mrs. PG’s book ranked #1 in both. It was #2 when PG put up this post.

Mrs. PG entered this book into the Kindle Scout program and Kindle Press picked it up in mid-2017.


Are ebooks dying or thriving? The answer is yes

14 May 2018

From Quartz:

It is a heartwarming story: In spite of the endless onslaught of digital content, American readers have collectively put down their screens and decided to embrace once more that beloved tactile rectangular prism that reminds us, with its weight at the bottom of our bags, of its immeasurable heft. Since 2015, major news outlets, including this one, have reported the triumphant return of print: that “real” books are back, and ebooks have lost their gleam.

Of course, it’s not entirely true. Yes, ebooks are doing just fine: Americans consume hundreds of millions of them a year. But many of their authors are writing and publishing books, and finding massive audiences, without being actively tracked by the publishing industry. In fact, the company through which they publish and distribute their books, a tech behemoth disguised as a benevolent, content-agnostic retailer, is the only entity with any real idea of what’s going on in publishing as a whole.

Amazon’s power over self-publishing, a shadow industry running outside the traditional publishing houses and imprints, is insidiously invisible. As a result, the publishing industry has a data problem, and it doesn’t look like Amazon will be loosening its grip any time soon.

. . . .

They don’t often get nominated for huge book prizes, noticed by the New York Times book review, or endorsed by the president. But over the past seven years, self-published books—predominantly sold as ebooks–have offered a rare avenue through which writers can make a living just from writing, as opposed to speaking, teaching, and/or consulting. By cutting out publishers, writers sidestep print and distribution costs, increase their revenue, and are beholden to readers and algorithms, not critics, editors, marketers, or sales people. A decent writer with a flair for self-promotion, or a decent entrepreneur with writing chops, can earn serious cash.

. . . .

Self-publishing has since exploded, particularly in romance, fantasy, and science fiction. Though an average is impossible to estimate, top-selling authors can sell hundreds of thousands of self-published books on Amazon, which, with revenue of $2 per book, can generate millions of dollars. For the past few years, mega-selling romance writer H.M. Ward has been making a seven-figure salary across self-publishing platforms, more than half of which came through Amazon. At one point,she cracked double-digit millions in sales. According to one estimate, last year 2,500 self-published authors made at least $50,000 in book sales across self-publishing platforms, before the platforms’ cuts.

. . . .

The information asymmetry between Amazon and the rest of the book industry—publishers, brick-and-mortar stores, industry analysts, aspiring writers—means that only the Seattle company has deeply detailed information, down to the page, on what people want to read. So an industry that’s never been particularly data-savvy increasingly works in the dark: Authors lose negotiating power, and publishers lose the ability to compete on pricing or even, on a basic level, to understand what’s selling.

. . . .

But ebook sales are anybody’s guess. Amazon doesn’t report its ebook sales to any of the major industry data sources, and it doesn’t give authors more than their own personal slice of data. A spokesperson from Amazon writes by email that “hundreds of thousands of authors self-publish their books today with Kindle Direct Publishing,” but declined to provide a number, or any sales data.

. . . .

Without good data, there’s no complete picture of the industry. News stories say digital fatigue is sounding the death knell of ebooks, as readers across the country devour $700 million dollars of untracked digital files. Publishers are less able to see what’s selling in certain commercial genres, and less able to take risks on debut authors. Bookstore attendance becomes lopsided, and a large swath of American readers get algorithm-driven book creation. As authors move to self-publishing, the creativity pool becomes bifurcated.

“I think it hurts everyone,” says publishing consultant Jane Friedman. “Because everyone gets to put forward the narrative they would personally like to believe in.” Publishers believe ebooks were a failed experiment, bookstore owners can cheer the triumph of their raison d’être, print lovers get to gloat that screens will never kill the old-school ways. Self-published authors can keep making money, and trying to light lamps to cut through the data darkness.

Link to the rest at Quartz

Books by women priced 45% lower, study finds

1 May 2018

From The Guardian:

A study of more than 2m books has revealed that titles by female authors are on average sold at just over half the price of those written by men.

The research, by sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg and mathematician Adam Kapelner of Queens College-CUNY, looked titles published in North America between 2002 and 2012. The authors analysed the gender of each author by matching names to lists of male and female names, and cross-referenced with information about price, genre and publication.

Books by women released by mainstream publishers, they found, were priced on average 45% lower than books by men. In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, the academics point out that there are more female authors writing in genres such as romance, which are generally priced lower than male-dominated genres such as science. But even after accounting for these differences, they found that prices for authors with identifiably female names were 9% lower than for male authors.

Weinberg said the study was inspired by the VIDA counts of book reviews, which have shown the skew towards reviews of books by male authors, written by male reviewers. “Our study looked at all three types of discrimination – the gender segregation by book genre, the different value placed on these genres, and then finally the difference within the genres,” she said. “VIDA has been very good about calling attention to the first issue, namely the lack of representation of female authors in certain genres, and others have emphasised how books written predominantly by women and for women such as romance and women’s fiction do not receive the recognition they deserve.”

It was little surprise to see evidence of segregation by genre and the differing values placed on each genre, Weinberg added, but the researchers were very surprised at how clear this discrimination was.

. . . .

The study also looked at self-published, or independently published, titles over the same period, finding that when authors priced books themselves, there was far greater equality between the genders – although there was still a price gap of 7%. Inequality was also seen within genres for self-publishers, at 4% compared with the 9% for traditionally published books.

“Without the publishers, we see slightly less discrimination, but it’s still apparent, and it follows the same patterns,” said Weinberg. “The easy answer [for the disparity] would be that publishing companies are sexist, but the indie findings challenge that simple explanation. The findings point to the strength of shared social contexts. Likely, publishers and authors share many of the same unconscious biases about what genre specialties are appropriate for male or female authors and about the value of those genres, and indie authors may also be mimicking what they see in the traditional publishing world. In addition, both traditional publishers and indie authors are creating and reacting to markets for their work, or to their perceptions of those markets, and placing and pricing their titles accordingly.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Kindle Unlimited Per-Page Rate Dips in March 2018 as the Funding Pool Increases

15 April 2018

From The Digital Reader:

While the Kindle Unlimited funding pool grew by 5% in March 2018, the per-page royalty did not.

. . . .

From Self-Publisher Bibel (please fill in the missing numbers):

  • US: $0.0045 (USD)
  • Germany: €0.0031 (EUR)
  • Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy: €0.0045 (EUR)
  • Canada: $0.0046 (CAD)
  • Brazil: R$ 0.0109 (BRL)
  • Japan: 0.5568 (JPY)
  • UK, Mexico, Australia, Canada, India: unknown

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Smart People Doing Stupid Things

6 April 2018

From WBUR:

Mark Zuckerberg will explain his company’s handling of user data before Congress next week. The Facebook CEO also took questions from reporters Wednesday, acknowledging the company’s missteps and announcing new privacy provisions.

Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep), a professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who researches the impact of social media, tells Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd she would “be shocked if there aren’t a lot more cases” of data scandals like the one involving Cambridge Analytica.

. . . .

 On criticism of the company in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal

“It has a record of being very data-hungry, in that it scoops up an enormous amount of user data — not just what you do on the site, it even purchases data about you and merges it with its own data. And I have to say, unfortunately I wasn’t surprised as much by the current scandal, because what happened was until 2015, Facebook allowed these kinds of apps to harvest not just your data on Facebook, but your friends’ data. So even if you’d never downloaded this app or any other app, some random Facebook friend of yours did, they got your data, too. So the current scandal is focused on the fact that one of those apps was fronted by an academic who apparently passed the data to Cambridge Analytica, which then became Donald Trump’s firm. But there were thousands and thousands of apps scooping up people’s data. I’d be shocked if there aren’t a lot more cases of this.”

On Facebook maintaining “shadow profiles” of nonusers

“Even if you’ve never been on Facebook, what happens is, for example, on Android phones, if you downloaded the Facebook app or the Messenger app, it turns out Facebook’s been uploading to its own servers and keeping a copy of your text messages, which means even if you’ve never been on it and you were texting with somebody who’s on Facebook or who uses the app or who uploaded their contact list — which is a very common way people connect with Facebook — it means that it kinda knows who your friends are. It can place you in a network. And Facebook keeps these ‘shadow profiles’ of its nonusers so that it can identify and profile and sometimes even target them. It’s kinda hard to exaggerate what a data-hungry company this is.”

. . . .

“The thing I wanna emphasize is rather than focus on the dystopia, what people need to understand is there’s nothing inevitable about the way the data retention and surveillance and digital technology works at the moment. If we change this, it’ll be good for innovation, it’ll be good for technology, it’ll be good for business models and it’ll be good for us. So let’s do that, rather than focus on the spectacle side of things. It’s so very early.”

Link to the rest at WBUR

While the obsessive focus on the last US presidential election has given Facebook’s missteps a huge publicity boost, PG thinks the huge backlash against the company will have a beneficial social effect.

PG has worked at some tech startups and the euphoria that accompanies rapid growth can lead to hastily-considered management decisions. Regardless of whether the future tech entrepreneurs who are laboring in college computer science classes are paying close attention to Facebook, the somewhat less-impulsive venture capitalists who will be funding the tech startups of the future are.

PG suspects a thorough review of the security of and the uses to which personally-identifiable information will be an integral part of any VC due diligence process prior to funding in the future.

That said, even very smart people sometimes do stupid things. The United States seems to have quite a lot of examples of this behavior in recent years.

Top-Selling Indie Authors?

5 April 2018

PG would like to solicit nominations for the top-selling indie author within the last year or so.

Feel free to post your nominations as a comment or comments to this post together with any supporting information you would care to include.

If you would like to suggest genre-specific best-sellers, feel free to do so. Ditto for bestsellers on Amazon UK, and other country-specific lists.

NYT best-selling author talks switching genres and writing in Calgary

23 March 2018

From The Gauntlet:

A little over a decade ago, Steena Holmes began writing in her spare time while working as a receptionist in downtown Calgary. After winning a short story contest, she found herself looking for publishers for her first novel. Holmes continues to self-publish books, including the 2013 novel Sweet Memories, which quickly became a New York Times best-seller.

Continuing to write in Calgary, Holmes’ upcoming book, The Forgotten Ones, is on track for a April 1 release. She’s set to take a first step into the psychological thriller genre with the new novel.

. . . .

Holmes draws on her own past and upbringing for the book, which is set in her hometown of Kincardine, Ontario.

“I was able to use a lot of my memories growing up,” Holmes says. “[I use] the hospital — my mom used to work there and I used to volunteer there. I have fond memories of the cafeteria there, walking the hallways and what not.”

Holmes, a long-time advocate of indie publishing, also reflects on her experiences starting off as a writer.

“I really loved the journey I’ve been on. I started off with small presses and then I went self-publishing. I chose working with Lake Union [Amazon] for specific reasons. I knew that I would be able to find a broader audience than if I just continued self-publishing on my own or if I focused on getting my book into stores,” she says. “But going with Amazon and being able to self-publish, opened doors for readers, which has always been my goal.”

. . . .

“Here in Canada, there’s more of an acceptance to literature [compared to the United States], but there isn’t a lot of cohesiveness or acceptance to writing in general. It’s a lot of, ‘I do this, you do that,’ ” Holmes says. “I just wish there was a little more acceptance to different paths of writing, instead of the assumption that it has to be one or another.”

Link to the rest at The Gauntlet

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