More E-Book News: Behind the Stats

Today’s Wall Street Journal online quotes Amazon.com as saying that ebooks have outsold hardcover books over the last three months.

Additional statistics from that article include:  “Amazon sought to suggest that Amazon remains the leading retailer for e-books. The company said that of the 1.14 million James Patterson e-books sold as of July 6, nearly 868,000 were from Amazon.” Also, “in June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had claimed that his company’s iBookstore, which launched in April, had taken 20% of the market.”

My observations of these developments are two-fold.
One. Everyone is claiming “dominance” but no one is sharing actual verifiable data. It’s like standing on the playground in pre-school and saying “my Dad can beat up your Dad.”

Two. Claiming that e-books have outsold hardcovers is disingenuous if they are counting free downloads as sales. Remember when Amazon claimed that on Christmas Day they sold more e-books than p-books? Of course they did. Everyone who received a Kindle as a gift, turned it on and downloaded books. Who else was shopping for books on Christmas Day?

Remember the news adage “if it bleeds it leads.” So just because something makes a great headline and a press release doesn’t necessarily reflect day-to-day mundane reality.

By the way, take a look at the comments section of yesterday’s blog entry. Randy Ingermanson provided some great thoughts and I responded with a couple other things to consider as well as part of the ongoing discussion on this issue.

7 Responses to More E-Book News: Behind the Stats

  1. Avatar
    Robert Treskillard July 20, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Steve,

    A thought, as well as a question for you.

    First, I understand that the current publishing model sells rights to regions … but I wonder if in the future it will be to “stores”. Thus each store competes with each other for sales, and the winner gets the profit.

    People in Australia will more than likely purchase from the Australian Amazon store. But if an American traveled to there, and purchased from the US Amazon store, they would get the profit, and it matters little where you are standing at the time. This gets rid of the need to track IP addresses, etc., and simplifies the model.

    My question (below) is based on a theory: I would contend that the reason that CD’s still have 70% of the market is due to piracy. I would guess that their are vastly more people listening to downloaded mp3s … it is just that most of them aren’t legal.

    Thus my question … is the breakdown different for the Christian market due to less piracy? One would hope that Christian listeners are more likely to pay for their music.

    If this is so, perhaps CD sales are less than 70% in the Christian market … does anyone have numbers to check that theory?

    The same issue may affect e-book sales in the CBA. Hopefully there will be less piracy, thus fueling more actual e-book sales.

    I’m not saying that would necessarily reduce the p-book sales … just increase the e-book.

    Great posts, Steve! This is a very interesting discussion.

    -Robert

  2. Avatar
    Steve July 20, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    To reply to Robert’s questions…
    CD music sales are not broken out by Christian market vs. General market. Almost every major Christian music label is owned and managed by a larger general market company (like EMI for example). Thus the stats are universal for all music sales independent of their content.

    Piracy has had very little effect on book sales so far. The necessity for a reader to translate the code onto the screen is a small measure of security. For example, the Kindle uses a proprietary format only readable using the Amazon software. Others tout the “E-Pub” format which is similar in concept to the mp3 meaning it is supposed to be “device agnostic.” The danger is that E-Pub formats can then get into the wild and be pirated.

    In a recent presentation by a major publisher’s digital guru, they said they send out over 1,500 “Take Down” notices to web sites around the world every month. These notices legally demand that the site remove a pirated book from their web site or from a site the server hosts. The publisher said they get nearly 100% compliance from the servers in all but a couple countries.

    I think piracy is an issue that an author should not be afraid of at this point. It is one good reason to contract with a major publisher who is very devoted to digital rights management. I can’t imagine a self-published author being able to scour the world for digital piracy.

  3. Avatar
    Pam Hillman July 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Interesting.

    E-books could outsell hardcovers in percentages compared to the previous quarter, and still be a drop of ink in the inkwell to the numbers of hardcovers that sold during the last quarter.

    There is a silver lining regardless: apparently story is still a desirable commodity. Yay!

  4. Avatar
    Pamela Osback July 21, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    I read the article yesterday. It also stated that over the last three months pbooks have increased in sales 22%. Interesting times.

  5. Avatar
    Andra M. July 21, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    Hi Steve,

    E-books seem to be the topic-du-jour lately, and I agree that we live in exciting times with regard to how it will all play out.

    I’m a fan of p-books, because I like the tactile contact. It makes me feel like I’m more a part of the story. By the same token I can see the allure of e-books — convenience and travel-ability being the two best reasons.

    As a writer, though, as long as people want to purchase my stories, the format is irrelevant.

  6. Avatar
    Mark Young July 21, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Saw this article, Steve, and wrote about it today on my blog. Looking from the outside in. Thanks for your thoughts on this matter. Still to early to tell where this all headed, but I believe the publishing landscape is shifting again.

  7. Avatar
    Randy Ingermanson July 21, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi Steve,
    I agree that it’s imperative to check those pesky statistics to make sure things are what they seem. From what I can see, the e-books vs hardbacks comparison was for copies sold, excluding those freebies. Here’s what I found:

    “Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books. This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.”

    We live in interesting times.

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