Despite What You Heard, The E-Book Market Never Stopped Growing


Over the last year, we’ve been talking to writers like A.G. Riddle who have been making a more than comfortable living selling e-books directly to readers on Amazon. That’s why it’s always seemed a bit strange to see media accounts reporting on the shrinking market for e-books.

News outlets like The New York Times report that e-book sales continue to slip, which is true if the data only covers part of the market. Reports from the Association of American Publishers has data from 1,200 publishers. They are the largest publishers, but they are also losing market share.

E-book sales never declined, according to a presentation yesterday at Digital Book World in New York City. In fact, if anything, we don’t yet have an adequate way to estimate how much the market segment has grown.

In back-to-back presentations from from the data site Author Earnings and publishing tech firm Overdrive, it became clear that “unit sales” may not be the best way to measure the size of the book market. In more and more ways it’s becoming clear that there are additional ways for writers to earn money than by readers buying whole books or even buying books at all.


. . . .

E-books, Data Guy told the crowd, “Never stopped growing.”

It looks as though sales stuttered because traditional publishers have been losing market share to indie authors who publish directly through online platforms. Amazon is by far the largest of these platforms.

. . . .

Reports on the e-book market tend to ignore Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s Netflix for ebooks. Amazon splits up each month’s Kindle Unlimited revenue among participating authors based on how many pages members read.

Science-fiction author Hugh Howey said that being part of the program increased his revenue so much that it was worth pulling his books from all other platforms, such as Kobo and iBooks.

Data Guy acknowledged that some industry watchers might argue that a Kindle Unlimited download isn’t really a sale, but Author Earnings takes the position that any money in a writer’s pocket counts.

. . . .


Local book stores saw a 5 percent growth in sales last year, but every other channel (such as big stores, Walmart and etc) saw a 5 percent decline. Those channels were so much larger that local stores’ growth was more than made up for by the declines everywhere else. “Perhaps 10 fold,” Data Guy said.

Let’s hear it for your favorite local shop, but the truth is that Amazon has been the one closing those new print sales.


Link to the rest at and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

23 thoughts on “Despite What You Heard, The E-Book Market Never Stopped Growing”

  1. Hi, Data Guy, I despise the e-pub format. I have a 55,000-word young adult novel that keeps getting rejected. I would like to publish but I can’t afford to pay someone to format for me. Additionally, I belong to the biggest social media apps but don’t know the best e-marketing strategies to get attention for my book. I have a blog set up but again, how do I draw people in to read my work? Since you obviously study the markets, any advice you can give to a budding, unpublished author? Thank you for your time.

    • Lisa – This is PG. Data Guy sometimes comes here to comment, but this isn’t his blog.

      Here’s how to answer your question — Spend some time on websites focused on indie authors.

      The Passive Voice has over 14,000 blog posts on it. Some of the earlier ones may be a bit dated because indie publishing has changed over time, but at least 90% of those posts include links to other websites that should be helpful to you.

      In my observation, the indie authors who work the hardest and smartest at writing and promoting their books have the most success. I don’t think there is a short-cut recipe for continued success.

      Good luck with your book.

          • A class act, indeed, sir. My response to someone that starts with “I despise e-pub” is usually not suitable for public consumption… (Or “I despise paper” for that matter, although I haven’t seen that but once or twice. They’re two different delivery channels for the same product for God’s sake – not the difference between a “tasteful” nude scene in a Hollywood production and working in the corner strip joint.)

            You’re not the one to ask – and neither is Data Guy. He’s an analyst of the business, not a mover of it.

            However, I would have also referred the young lady to that long list of places over on the right side of the PV page. (Yes, you do have to do some work, scrolling down past the almost as long list of post categories. Not complaining, sir.)

      • The market is shrinking *and* growing simultaneously, depending on who you are and how you manage your business.
        The overall ebook market is growing significantly but it is a tide that doesn’t lift all boats. In other words, it is exactly like all other open markets.

    • Then learn how to do it yourself.

      It’s not hard.

      I read the free Smashwords guide on how to format word docs so they format properly.

      Now I use Scrivener that makes converting to Mobi or Epub easy.

      Either learn how to do it or pay someone to do it.

    • Lisa, A good forum for questions like this is Writer’s Cafe. Sign up is free. You can post questions and get answers quickly. Not just about epub format but about all facets of indie publishing: covers, blurbs, email lists, and more.

  2. All the positive things and they had to throw this in:

    “In the past, Amazon would sell e-books at a loss, because it helped drive Kindle device sales and keep users on their platform.”

    I seem to recall that that was looked at but proven to be false, yet the media just can’t let go of it.

    “In back-to-back presentations from from the data site Author Earnings and publishing tech firm Overdrive, it became clear that “unit sales” may not be the best way to measure the size of the book market.”

    They just needed to add: “unit sales” [of/from the qig5] may not be the best way to measure the size of the book market.” to let the truth shine through.

    • I think another interpretation of Amazon’s earlier ebook pricing activity was that they were trying to show publishers the optimum pricing in order to sell the most books and make the most money online.

      Because they sell so much of so many different products, have a direct relationship with purchasers and are so data-driven, Amazon has far more information on optimum pricing strategies than Big Publishing or anyone else.

      • It has always amazed me how many MBAs do not understand that profit per unit has only a passing relationship with total profit. (Well, some don’t seem to get the difference between gross and net, either.)

        • Having worked with, and unfortunately for, some of those, I’ve come to believe suspect that an MBA isn’t about proletarian trivialities like “making a profit.”

          I had one try to explain to me that customers were a liability because of the expense it took to service them, which was why it was always best to go with the distributor model where you only had one customer [the distributor] and you didn’t have to deal with the end customers.

          I tried to point out that basing your entire business on a single point of failure wasn’t a good idea, but there was apparently no means of communication between IT wonk and senior management…

          • You’re forgetting that their time scale is 2-3 years. As in, “how much can I get out of this before I switch jobs.” That the company was left hanging on one distributor isn’t a problem, because they won’t be there when the earth drops out from under.

      • What I have never understood is why some of the new distributors oriented to indies, like PublishDrive, don’t generate similar charts to Amazon’s comparing unit sales by price point, BY COUNTRY, since they can.

        International distribution needs to provide assistance for international price setting.

  3. There’s a couple of interesting observations in there:

    First, the coment that (as I’ve said before) the real divide in ebooks isn’t really indies vs tradpub but rather the BPHs vs everybody else.

    Second, that african american urban fiction is even more overwhelmingly digital than even romance. 96%. Says a lot about the value system of the BPHs.

    On the other hand, it repeats the fallacious spin that Amazon “lost” the Agency Part Deux negotiations, which shows a misunderstanding of the economics of price fixing. Namely that price fixing favors entrenched players in proportion to their size and, by handcuffing potential newcomers, raise the barriers to entry. This is particularly noticeable since the rest of the article details exactly *how* Amazon has used the BPHs pricing strategies to squeeze competitors in both ebook and pbook and grow their market share.

    The biggest losers in ebook retail from Agency Part Deux are Apple, Google, Kobo, and the Adept generics because they are all more dependent on BPH titles than Amazon and they don’t sell pbooks. Amazon is making out like a bandit. That is hardly a loss.

    • An interesting thing about those niche markets (urban fiction, lgbt, etc) is that once a reader finds such a genre that ‘clicks’ for them, they abandon tent-pole books. It isn’t just that Amazon is stealing book sales from other venues that sell the same sorts of commonly found books, but that in many cases they are stealing readers away hook line and sinker.

    • I think the biggest loser in agency pricing is B & N, given that it caused Amazon to focus its discounting strategy on hardcover best sellers.

      • True, and we just saw what that did to their holiday quarter.
        But on the ebook side their losses are self-inflicted and they do sell pbooks online to mitigate the losses from an online customer choosing not to pay more for a BPH ebook than its print edition.
        The rest of the epub gang don’t have that fallback: a lost ebook sale is a total loss to them.

  4. i can’t remember what band he was from
    — maybe social distortion? —
    but i remember that one punk musician,
    after having been written up in one of the
    major news-stand magazines of the day,
    said something along the lines of
    “if they got so much wrong about our band,
    which is a fairly trivial story to get correct,
    how can i ever trust them on difficult subjects,
    like the war in the middle east?”

    that’s certainly how i feel about e-books.

    this article was very good, in the sense that
    it corrected a myth that other press outlets
    seem far too happy to repeat ad infinitum.

    but even with this article, the comments here
    on this blog are far more astute than the article.

    “fake” news, outright fabricated lies, is a problem,
    to be sure, especially when it’s political propaganda.

    but the incidence of inadequate and inept reporting,
    from entities which should be doing a far better job,
    is distressing in its own right, maybe even more so.


  5. I can’t wait to see Data Guy’s explanation and charts up at authorearnings. He does awesome work – and it’s so nice not to have to divine the numbers out of news articles that don’t give the facts!

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