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

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

15 thoughts on “Traditional publishers’ ebook sales drop as indie authors and Amazon take off”

  1. “Over a thousand independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”

    Only one comment here? Seems like some sense finally sinking in with the non-indie media.

  2. I suspect Cat Rambo was mentioned because the presentation was made at the SFWA Nebula Conference this weekend. I was there and the presentation data matches what I heard, too.

  3. I think tradpub has pretty well lost SF. And romance. And are well on the way to losing most of the rest.

  4. I think tradpub has pretty well lost SF. And romance. And are well on the way to losing most of the rest.

    • I think trad pub has definitely lost romance. It will lose A SECTION of science fiction and mystery/thrillers but not as thoroughly as romance. It will be left with big tentpole books by older bestsellers and literary novels. romance is the huge loss but for some reason trad publishing was never comfortable earning a big chunk of its income with romance. So they are sorry from a bottom line point of view, but not really. their loss.

  5. The last Author earnings Report plunged us into darkness.

    From the GeekWire post:

    ” “The indie share of the entire U.S. ebook market … now looks like what the indie share of Amazon alone used to be,” Author Earnings concluded. “In other words, far from losing ground, the overall indie market share has grown.” ”

    This tells us nothing. If the pie is 100% and traditional publishers have seen sales drop, which they readily admit to, then by definition the indie market share will increase. Indie ebook sales may or may not be up. The AE Report does not tell us one way or the other.

    What the last AE Report did clearly tell us is that in nine months of 2017 total US ebook sales were at $1.3 billion. In February 2017 Data Guy told us the full year 2016 US ebook sales were worth $3.2 billion.

    That’s a big drop.

  6. “SFWA said, there was no apparent difference in range of income between indie and traditionally published members.”

    It’s worth noting that SFWA members are overwhelmingly traditionally published authors, a number of which are republishing back catalogue titles and many of which have an established fan base.

    IMO this does not make for a direct comparison with the majority of indie authors.

    • I think the key word is “range”.
      Range of income is simply setting bounds.

      To me she is saying the best tradpub outcomes are comparable to the best Indie outcomes and the worst indie outcomes are comparable to the worst tradpub outcomes.

      It says nothing about how many authors see the best outcome, how many see the worst, or how the distribution curves look.

      She is being subtle and diplomatic.

      That statement encompasses both these scenarios:

      1- A bad story will earn as much in tradpub circles as in Indie circles: zero.

      2- A good story marketed properly can earn as much In indieland as with tradpub. This is hardly news: total unit sales might be lower going Indie but the higher net makes up for it.

      The subtlety is that by saying you can potentially make the same income either way tilts the decision making towards Indie, Inc for the usual reasons: faster time to market, more regular payouts, better control of the career, and no loss of copyright and ancillary rights control.

      Now, combine this with her comments about low royalty rates and high book prices “steering to an iceberg” and she is hardly endorsing tradpub.

      I like how she phrased things.

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