Kindle, eBooks continue to take over book sales

As the Kindle 3 continues its march towards total eReader domination, with the latest step being retail distribution via Staples, it is worth taking a moment to look at all the different consequences due to the rise of the Kindle, eReaders, and eBooks.

35% of 1 million copies of ‘Freedom’ sold were eBooks

Marion Manekar of BNet reveals two pretty huge numbers

  1. Ken Follet’s latest bestseller sold 20,000 copies in eBook format during its first seven days on sale. This is despite the really obscene pricing of the Kindle edition. Imagine how much it would have sold if the Publisher hadn’t unnaturally restricted its ebook sales.   
  2. There were 350,000 ebook copies of Jonthan Franzen’s Freedom sold (total sales were 1 million). Please note that this is despite the Kindle edition being $12.99 and the hardcover being $14. Here’s a quote from an article on eBooks at The Independent –

    I sat yesterday with Jonathan Galassi, the man who published Jonathan Frantzen’s Freedom in America.

    There are about a million copies in print, he’s sold a huge amount – and 35 per cent are e-books. That’s phenomenal. That’s a jump forward that’s happened in America in just a year.

    But when there’s a terrific buzz about a book, as with Frantzen, that’s exactly when people want the book immediately… The bigger the book, now, the bigger the e-book sale will be.”  

Again, it’s worth noting that these numbers are despite the fact that Publishers tried their best to handicap ebook sales by pricing Freedom at $12.99 (the hardcover is $14) and Fall of Giants at $19.99 (the hardcover is $19.39). These books are at #10 and #19 respectively in the Kindle Store Bestsellers List – at $10 they would have both been in the Top 5 and probably sold 50% more (for Freedom) and 100% more (for Fall of Giants).

Independent asks a good question –

Who’ll be the first to charge for a money-based, author-reader relationship that dispenses with agent, publisher, retailer, editor, production department and glamorous publicity director?

You have to imagine that at some point of time big name authors will start realizing that they could be making millions from ebook sales and could then use that money to fund their own printing. Or they could just wait till 2014 when book sales are 75% ebooks and forgo all the hassles of printing and distributing physical books.

These ebook sales figures are stunning both in terms of ‘percentage of books sold’ and ‘absolute number of ebooks sold’.

How long will Publishers keep leaving ebook revenue on the table?

Despite Publishers’ various attempts at killing ebooks we have ebook sales accounting for 35% of sales (for at least one bestseller). If the price were a more rational $9 or $10 ebook sales might have been 40% to 50%.

350,000 sales at $12.99 is $4.546 million. That’s $4.5 million just from ebook sales. At $10 it would have perhaps sold over 500,000 copies for a total take of over $5 million and much better sales rankings.

Ken Follet’s book sold 20,000 copies in 7 days. It sounds great until you realize that by pricing it at $19.99 the Publisher might have forsaken the opportunity to sell hundreds of thousands of ebook copies in the first 7 days.

20,000 sales at $19.99 is $399,800. The Publisher here is assuming he’s saving hardcover sales. But what amount of ebook sales are being sacrificed – What if it’s 100,000 ebook sales sacrificed by not pricing books at $9.99 each. That’s $800K left on the table to protect hardcover sales that may or may not have been protected.

Which brings us to the second part of our post which asks whether the whole concept of ‘protecting hardcover sales’ makes any sense.

In a big surprise eReader owners tend to buy mostly eBooks

Publishers still don’t get it – but they’re beginning to.   

Evan Schnittman writes that eBooks don’t cannibalize Print, People do (courtesy Teleread) –

I posit a slightly more nuanced definition of what is happening:

Ebooks aren’t cannibalizing print books — consumers with ebook reading devices are, as a rule, no longer buying print books.

This is sheer brilliance.

Yes, we knew about this years ago. However, for a member of the elite circle of Publishers and Publishing experts to understand this is truly remarkable. Just as remarkable as it would be for a brilliant physicist to comprehend and accept that one of the fundamental laws of physics is broken.

Evan Schnittman finally gets it.

  1. If a Kindle owner doesn’t find the book she wants in ebook format, or she finds it priced at $19.99, it’s not that she gets out of bed, walks to the nearest bookstore, breaks in, grabs a copy, leaves $20 on the counter, fights off 2 cops, and comes back to bed to read the book.
  2. No, she just finds another ebook to read.

That’s hard to believe isn’t it. That a reader would choose not to worship at the altar of Publisher Profit and Convenience.

Evan S. thinks that Publishers are now losing customers if they don’t have an ebook version and that this marks the real ebook tipping point.

Actually, the real tipping point was last October, November. The grand Agency Model is failing because it came after the tipping point. However, as long as Publishers realize we’ve crossed the tipping point who cares if they use language and dates that make them happy and make sense in their warped view of the world.

The simple thing Publishers don’t understand about us Kindle owners

Here’s something that’s so amazingly obvious it’s crazy that a Publishing genius has to write it down for it to make sense to Publishers –

This is a critical understanding of ebook customers. They invest in a device and platform to read books and therefore become dependent on those channels of ebook distribution for their content.  

They don’t go into stores and are not very likely to shop in online environments that feature ebooks and print books. 

Ebookstores on ebook reading devices sell only ebooks. Print is not part of the experience.

Yes, print is no longer part of the experience.

It would also be nice if Mr. S. didn’t assume that we have ‘become dependent on those channels of ebook distribution’. We’re not idiots who ‘become dependent’ on something. We just prefer the convenience and the value that the Kindle and Nook platforms provide.

He keeps hammering his ‘eReader owners buy only ebooks’ point home –

Ebook reading device users don’t shop in bookstores and then decide what edition they want; ebook device readers buy what is available in ebookstores.

He ends with this –

So in the end, the book-selling world may lose 25% or so of its print customers to ebooks, but those customers will likely buy more product than they would have if they didn’t use an ereader.

In the end … may lose 25% or so?

At $12.99 Jonathan Franzen sold 35% ebooks. We went from 2.5% ebooks to 8.5% ebooks in 1 year. Yet we continue to play this game of pretending that when ebooks hit 25% people will magically stop shifting to ebooks.

If Publishers are lucky the shift will slow down at 50% and stop at 75% and the shift will happen gradually over the next 10 years. If Publishers are unlucky the shift from 8.5% ebooks to 75% ebooks will happen in the next 4 to 5 years.

Given that Publishers are facing Amazon and Google and that readers are sick and tired of ‘$19.99 for the ebook’ stunts it’s hard to imagine Publishers getting lucky.

12 thoughts on “Kindle, eBooks continue to take over book sales”

  1. I am a new ebook owner and user. I appreciate these evaluations of the ebook/publisher marketing practices. I for one will not go the the altar of hard print again. I will find what I want electronically. I will pay for a reasonably priced ebook. I will not pay for one that is comparative to hardcover. Maybe not even comparative to paperback. I will support those struggling writers who are beginning their careers and who use electronic means to disseminate their products. I will not support the greedy practices I see afoot with the likes of Agency Model.
    There’s an old maxim. Caveat Emptor. “Let the buyer beware” There is now a paradigm shift taking place. Let the publisher beware!

  2. I’d completely agree that Kindle readers buy ebooks. I generally go through 2 novels/week, but I haven’t bought a hardcopy since I got the KIndle, and I’ve got a couple of dozen ebooks in the Kindle waiting to be read.

    1. I’m with rwzehr,

      I read about 2 books a week (80% novels). I’ve stopped accepting p-books as gifts! I’m not trying to be rude, I’ve just run out of bookshelf space; why add more when I’ve read a sum total of one print novel in six months!

      One problem with over-priced e-books is that they are competing with my un-read Kindle stockpile. But wait, I was willing to pay $20 for the next ‘Wheel of time’ book. What happened? They pulled the e-book!

      My Kindle fits in the diaper back-pack, a 1,000 page novel doesn’t. One guess which I buy and then read when the kiddies nap. Since I missed the ebook at book launch, I’ll see if it is in e-book… in six months. 🙂

      I find it ironic it is now the elderly switching to e-books now.


  3. It’s not that I can’t afford the extra few bucks at agency prices, it’s that I resent them trying to take advantage of me. In that case, if I still want to read the book, I get it used in the Amazon Marketplace so that neither the publisher or the author makes a dime.

    There are very few authors for whom I am willing to pay more than $6 for one of their books. Those are generally authors I collect and will purchase the discounted or new/used hardback instead of the ebook. You can keep a hardback forever, but probably not an ebook.

  4. “Ebook reading device users don’t shop in bookstores and then decide what edition they want; ebook device readers buy what is available in ebookstores.”

    Actually, that’s exactly what I do. I don’t want to read the first 8 pages (30 minus all the fluff at the front) of a book and then base my purchase decision on that. I go to B&N, look at the pretty cover, read the jacket, and then read from the book at random for three minutes.

    I then add the book to my wishlist and, at some point, I purchase the eBook from B&

    Reader reviews are nice, browsing titles online is pretty decent, but I absolutely cannot judge a book by the first chapter or fragment thereof.

  5. I’ve owned my first Kindle, the Kindle 3 with 3G and WiFi for about a month now. I’m already so devoted to my Kindle that I’m actually not even starting to read several print books I’d bought recently with a plan to read soon; in a couple of cases I bought a Kindle ebook that I already had in print from a purchase only a couple of weeks ago.

    For me, Amazon eBooks are the only true permanent thing in life, because I trust that Amazon as company will just get better and better and that it will exist on this planet longer than I will. Print books get old and musty-smelling; they can be destroyed by floods and fires. The ability to keep an archive of my books in the Amazon cloud FOR LIFE, downloading them to my device-of-the-moment as I want them (probably Kindles now and future, but also laptops, smartphones, xPads), can even follow me to a nursing home someday or into life as a bag lady if everything fails. There is nothing in life today as safe and secure as the Amazon cloud. I love you, Jeff Bezos!!!

  6. Excellent article.
    If only authors would insist that their books have international ebooks rights. As an Australian Kindle owner it is really noticeable the number of ebooks we cannot buy (even your ‘free’ one mentioned in the article). However we do still have a large selection available from Amazon but it just be nice to have more of the popular authors. Don’t get me wrong – I like a lot of the indie authors too and there is generally no problem with buying their books. I would probably amaze authors the increase in sales that would result.


    John Mitchell

  7. I bought my Kindle 2 about a year ago and since then the only paper books I’ve bought have been knitting/crochet books that have pictures and charts that I need to be able to see easily and mark on in order to make the project. I just can’t see the point of buying a big, heavy paper book that will sit on my shelf when I can carry all my books with me at the same time. Having said that, I feel the need to point out that I have always been a bibliophile; I worked in a library during my teen years and am now a high school English teacher. I own hundreds of paper books – which now gather dust.

    There is a “Kindle revolution” going on in my school. A year ago, only two other teachers and I owned Kindles. This school year our school librarian bought several Kindles for the library, and put posters up around school asking students to check them out. One day a very reluctant reader in my class pointed to the poster and asked “What’s that thing?” After explaining what a Kindle was and pulling out my Kindle 2 to show the class – interest sparked. In the past month I’ve seen at least 20 students with Kindles (note – our librarian only bought six for the school) and about ten of our teachers now own them. I’ve had parents tell me that they will be buying them for their children for Christmas as their children are begging for them. Both avid readers and reluctant readers are reading on Kindles. The original student who asked about the poster is on his second book, and he said he had never finished a book in his life before.

    Publishers need to catch up on what is happening and stop being so afraid of change!

    1. Thanks for the comment. It’s great to hear about the reading revolution going on in your school. This is the sort of information that’s really encouraging to hear – especially the story about the student who finished a book for the first time in his life.

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