E-Book Statistics For Authors to Watch

E-Book Sales 2011

From ebookcomments.blogspot.com

This weekend, I’ll be speaking at the Writer’s Digest Conference about e-publishing. I’m in the process of updating my slides and information about e-book sales—which can be a confusing and murky issue since the reporting of such sales is not as standardized as print book sales (yet).

Meaning: You can not only find various data sets, you can also find many interpretations. Above is a regularly updated graph from a blogger who has been following e-book sales reported by AAP (Association of American Publishers). It’s a good visual of how sales have picked up in recent years. (Click through for more of his graphs.)

When authors ask me about what’s next for the publishing industry, I try to point them to metrics to keep their eye on—since I find it hard to predict what will happen next. In that vein, here are two posts from this past week that nicely complement one another:

  • Top Self-Published Kindle E-Books of 2011: A Report by Piotr Kowalczyk at Teleread. This helpful parsing of Amazon data helps answer questions such as: Is the 99-cent price tag for e-books wearing out? Can we expect more success stories from independent e-book authors? Will self-published e-books continue to expand? Some of the most interesting data here is the number of self-published titles in the Kindle Top 100 bestsellers. In the best months, self-published titles claimed 20-27% of those spots. What authors should keep an eye on (especially those looking to self-publish): Pay attention to the Kindle Top 100 bestsellers and if the share of self-published titles increases. Also keep an eye on what’s being charged for these titles—because the more that indie authors can charge (and the longer bestseller status can be maintained), the more viable the indie route.
  • Finally, keep track of the appearance of self-published e-book authors on traditional bestseller lists. For instance, in USA Today’s 2011 bestseller list, two out of the 100 bestselling titles were self-published e-books. For the New York Times bestseller list, during the whole of 2011, eleven self-published e-book authors made it to the list. As Publishers Lunch noted (sub required), that’s not very many authors considering how widely the self-pub millionaire trend has been trumpeted. Let’s see if the number grows in 2012.

Helpful links

As a side note, while writing this post, it felt antiquated how bestseller lists still segment out sales by edition (hardcover, paperback, mass market, electronic). If these lists are printed to serve and inform readers—and perhaps that’s a huge assumption?—how much does this distinction matter, except to those inside the industry? How much do these distinctions serve to keep the old paradigms in place? (E.g., “hardcovers” are more important or meaningful than “paperbacks”?)

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Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
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58 Comments on "E-Book Statistics For Authors to Watch"

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4 years 23 days ago

11 in 100 is rather good when you consider how hard it is for a self pub author to get to the masses. And yes, i bet this number grows in 2012. If it could get to 20 then this would be huge for the self pub market, e-readers and e-books, and the book industry in general

Nice article and good luck with the conference

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

4 years 23 days ago

This is encouraging news. I like to see authors have more control over their own created content.

Bob Mayer
4 years 23 days ago

I’m just not sure bestseller lists are that applicable any more.  Sales figures are much more viable; and in terms of dollars, not copies sold.  I think it’s misleading to say the sale of a .99 eBook is the same as the sale of a $4.99 eBook.  Especially for an indie author.  We’re talking almost a ten times different in royalty rate.  Publishing has always shied away from talking about money (pretty much everyone does) but I think we’re going to have to in order to understand the reality.  I’ll be doing a post after Digital Book World where I’m… Read more »

4 years 23 days ago

I agree about the configuration of bestseller lists being irrelevant at this point. I’m reading Jennifer Egan right now: on my Kindle, my laptop, my iPhone, and my husband’s iPad when I was in a pinch. Where do you credit that sale? Publishers are living in 1986, while the world of readers has moved ON. A book simply IS.

And I think 11 out of 100 is astonishing considering the momentum that those self-published authors create without the aid of the massive infrastructure of the big publishers. So cool! 

4 years 23 days ago

love your teaching style; wish I could attend the conference this year, but not to be. Appreciate the overall industry view and updates–have a great conference!

4 years 23 days ago

Major point! Thanks for sharing.

4 years 23 days ago

It’s the Wild West. I’m hoping writers and publishers alike have learned something from the music industry. We saw this 10 years ago: everyone, creators and “publishers” alike, lost in the wilderness. I would argue the music industry never figured it out. The creators started touring more and took over distribution, and the superstars stayed within the confines of the publishers and the fall out is still, well, falling out.

Ed Cyzewski
4 years 23 days ago

Great data and links Jane. Thanks!  I have both commercially published and self-published books, and I’ve been playing with various price points for my self-published E-books. I’ve noticed that the $.99 price point certainly moves more books, but that also makes it quite tough to make any decent money. I don’t know how valid this is, but I’ve begun to think of that price point as essentially running an advertisement. If you think of it that way, I’m actually getting paid a small amount of money to promote my work. The key then is to write up my $.99 E-books… Read more »

4 years 23 days ago

Sales of my novel GHOSTS ON THE RED LINE for Kindle and Nook picked up substantially when I cut the e-book price to $2.99.  By comparison, including Amazon’s current discount, the paperback version is currently priced at just over $11.  Before Christmas when people were buying the paperback as Xmas gifts, there were more paperbacks sold than e-book copies.  Now e-book copies are the top sellers.  GHOSTS ON THE RED LINE is self-published so the major challenge for both formats is getting the word out.  Posters advertising the book were placed in Red Line trains during November-December.  Now I’m relying… Read more »

4 years 23 days ago

This is very interesting to someone who has not looked at the markets much since I graduated college 21 years ago.  It does appear that self-pub may be (or become) an alternative, which is amazing.  And I agree with your comments on hardcovers vs. paperbacks, etc.; however, from a business standpoint I can see why the publishers (and author, I would think?) would want to get as much return as possible before releasing subsequent versions – like first run movies, ‘bargain’ runs, Blu-Rays, DVDs and then television releases, I suppose.

4 years 23 days ago

Jane, I’m having trouble finding the format that sold the most for each book (ebook/print) in the USA today list.   Do you know where it is?

4 years 23 days ago

Ah, never mind, found it!

4 years 22 days ago

The other potentially misleading aspect of USA Today’s otherwise helpful list is explained by the newspaper as “the description of a title and the publisher name refers to the version selling the MOST (emphasis mine) copies in a particular week — hardcover (H), paperback (P) and e-book (E).”

So sales of 10,000 e-books, combined with 9,999 hardcover and 9,999 paperback would then be reported as an e-book bestseller.

[…] growth line for e-books is approaching vertical. A deserved […]

4 years 22 days ago

You’re so right about the segmentation. But the ‘best seller’ tag was always notoriously inaccurate wasn’t it? (with only sales from some stores counting) Would so love to see total sales figures for a single title. Then again, I’d love to see bundled editions (ePub, kindle, audio, some hard copy optional) so what do I know? I’m just the customer… 😉

ScottTheWriter / Scott Bury
4 years 22 days ago

I think that 2 out of 100 is a significant number, and 11 out of 100 even more so, considering, first, that it is a new phenomenon, and second, the very steep challenge that self-publishers face against the infrastructure and marketing power of the commercial publishing industry.

4 years 22 days ago

Great post, Jane.  Thx!  And yes, I would say that 11 indies out of 100 titles is a truly remarkable start, considering that (as far as I know) the NYTimes is still claiming they don’t include indie titles on their best seller list!  Another question to consider…have any traditional publishers produced 11 titles out of the 100?  And lastly, if you want to see which indie titles are making the best seller lists on a weekly basis, you can check out “The List Where Indies Count”, IndieReader’s (www.indiereader.com) list of the best selling indie books, which includes which best seller… Read more »

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Phyllis Grode
4 years 16 days ago

Jane, Thanks for the great lecture at WDC. I tried to find the link to the lecture you mentioned, but can not.  Can you send me a link? Thanks. pcagrode@gmail.com 

4 years 15 days ago

I’m interested in learning more about the demographics of the people buying & reading e-books. Can you point me to any info about that?

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4 years 6 days ago

Sure etextbook and ebook sales have increased. In fact a fourth of the sales on http://www.AffordTextbooks.com were either rental or digital textbook purchases.
Thanks to digital content that is making textbooks affordable !

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