Three Significant Announcements Regarding E-books and Audiobooks

Last week there were three significant announcements from Apple, Google, and Walmart of interest to all authors. First the three bits of news and then a few observations.

Apple announced that their iBooks app is being renamed to simply Books. Accompanying it will be a complete redesign of the reading app, their store, and the addition of an audiobook tab to make it easier for users to access their audiobook library. You will see the new design roll out over the next few months.

The audio tab is significant because last year Audible (owned by Amazon) and Apple ended their exclusive global digital audiobook agreement. There were competition complaints from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, plus an investigation was started by the European Commission. The result is that Apple will now compete with Amazon for audiobook sales. A category that is growing very fast.

Last month, to head this new initiative, Apple hired Kashif Zafar, who was the senior VP at Audible (Amazon) and before that was the content VP at Barnes & Noble for their Nook division.

Google announced they too will be selling audiobooks via their Google Play Store. As of today they are offering 50% off your first audiobook purchase. They are launching with a long list of best-selling audiobooks priced at under $10. In addition they will allow buyers to share their purchases with up to five family members at no extra cost. Google Play focuses on individual audio book sales in contrast to the subscription model of Audible.

Walmart announced their new partnership with Kobo, the ebook retailer that is a major player in Canada (with about 60% of digital book sales). (Kobo is actually  one of the e-book and audiobook divisions of Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce company, which also owns OverDrive.) Kobo’s e-reading devices have been available in the U.S. for a long time, but have struggled competing with Amazon’s Kindle, the smartphone, and the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

Kobo offers over six million e-books and audiobooks in their catalog which means those will become part of the online store of Walmart.

It is also assumed that Walmart will begin selling the Kobo e-reader device in their 4,600 locations. Walmart sold the Sony Reader a long time ago and also has previously sold both the Kindle and the Kobo. It will be interesting to watch those displays to see what devices they will be offering this Summer.

What Does This Mean?

The first thing that comes to mind? Books are selling and are a profitable source of revenue! Otherwise none of these e-commerce giants would invest in them. That is great news.

Second, these major companies are unwilling to cede market dominance to Amazon. Competition is a good thing for consumers.

Third, this means more opportunities for ebooks and audiobooks to be sold.

Fourth, audio is a common thread in all these moves. The category is no longer an afterthought. In case you had not heard, the latest premium Kindle dedicated e-reader device (the Oasis) is designed to also play audio books. Using Bluetooth technology the user can switch between audio and text with both remaining synced.

Fifth, seemingly left out is Barnes & Noble. But they already have their Nook e-reader and sell e-books online. However, they did have an announcement of their own. They changed the name of their self-publishing platform from Nook Press to Barnes & Noble Press. They redesigned their entire publishing web site and increased royalties to the authors.

Technical Matters as a Reminder

A reminder to everyone. There are two types of ebook formats.
1) the Kindle format used exclusively by Amazon. It is technically a .mobi file. Mobi and Kindle are nearly synonymous. One is the file (mobi), the other is the device or app that reads the file (Kindle). The file is proprietary to Amazon and can only be read using the Kindle reader, app, or online software. It provides the exclusive ecosystem controlled by Amazon.
2) the ePub format used by everyone else (Apple, Kobo, Nook, etc.)

Please be sure to understand the difference. You cannot easily read an ePub file on  Kindle without some conversion. You cannot read a mobi (Kindle) file on an epub reader. But you can read an ePub file on any non-Kindle device (Kobo, Nook, Apple, etc).

Note however, that although the ePub file is universal, each ebook retailer can require some massaging of the file to fit their specific requirements.

Indie Authors Must Decide

If you self-publish as an Indie author you have a decision to make. According to AuthorEarnings, Amazon controls over 80% of the e-book market in the U.S. For Indie authors Amazon offers many incentives to publish their ebooks exclusively with them. And if the author also has an audio version Amazon’s Audible division is even more dominant in the marketplace.

Thus the decision. Do you go exclusive with Amazon? Or do you expand your offerings? Up until now the Indie author didn’t risk losing too many U.S. sales by staying within Amazon’s system. But with Walmart making the entire Kobo catalog a part of their site and Apple renewing their interest, the Indie author could be leaving sales on the table if they remain exclusive.

I’d be curious to know what our readers plan to do.

Over at The Christian Writers Institute we publish The Christian Writers Market Guide and a few other books on writing. From the beginning I wanted our print books and ebooks available everywhere, which is the same philosophy the major traditional publishers follow.

To help with this, we use to handle all our non-Amazon e-book sales. It is a one-stop shop and has a user-friendly interface and reporting system. Our non-Kindle user customers are grateful we make the books widely available. Recently Draft2Digital added support for Amazon Kindle files as well.



32 Responses to Three Significant Announcements Regarding E-books and Audiobooks

  1. Brennan S. McPherson January 29, 2018 at 5:00 am #

    This is extremely exciting news! I think the only way that these other retailers will take a bigger bite out of Amazon’s e-book market share is by making their online stores more search-friendly, though. I can’t find a thing on Barnes and Noble’s site, or many of the others. It’s ridiculous. But Amazon’s search interface is supremely user-friendly.

    • Carol Ashby January 29, 2018 at 8:45 am #

      Brennan, over a year ago, I engaged in a multi-email exchange with Barne & Noble when I discovered that they don’t use the keywords an author enters in their search function. They still don’t.

      The magnitude of their failure to do what even a small mom-and-pop company with an online presence does boggles my mind. If someone searches “Biblical fiction” at Amazon, there are over 20,000 hits. At Barnes & Nobel…29, and not a single one is from one of the top 10 authors in that genre!

      If they type “biblical fiction” at Amazon, all three of mine pop up on the first page today (one sometimes slips to page 2). No wonder I’m selling a more than a 100-one ratio of ebooks at Amazon over B&N! I sell more books through Amazon’s Australian subsidiary than I do through B&N.

      Not surprising. If a person doesn’t type in my author name or the title, they won’t find my books at B&N. Plus, even if you type in the exact title, it might bring up dozens of books that don’t have that title before one that does. Two of mine are on p 1 or 2 with a search on their title at B&N, but my latest, which is selling the best of the three most days, isn’t even on the first 6 pages with its exact title entered. How is a reader supposed to find that book at B&N if someone told them the title of a book they love but not the author?

      B&N could be a poster child for online marketing incompetence.

      • Kathy Sheldon Davis January 29, 2018 at 9:06 am #

        That’s crazy, Carol. You’d think B&N would invest a little more to learn from their competition.

      • Steve Laube January 29, 2018 at 10:11 am #

        There is no argument that B&N has struggled online. But, to counter this a little…their focus has been their brick and mortar stores.

        They did invest heavily in the Nook and brought ebooks into their online program. But they were way behind when they started.

        The issue for most consumers is which “ecosystem” they want to keep their purchases. Since Kindle (mobi) and ePub are not naturally compatible, the device used by the consumer will often dictate where they make their purchases.

        For research, I have bought ebooks inside the Apple iBooks store. But to read those I have to remember they are inside that app.
        For Kobo I bought titles, but chose to download the file on my computer and then upload it to my Apple reader app.
        For Kindle, Amazon makes it really easy to have it all in one place. And that is one reason why Amazon is dominant in the U.S.
        Outside the U.S. Amazon does not have the same overwhelming dominance.

        • Carol Ashby January 29, 2018 at 11:14 am #

          There are epub reader apps that you can use on a Kindle Fire, too, but the Fire is a tablet, so that’s no surprise.

        • Steve Laube January 29, 2018 at 1:59 pm #

          Never forget that Books are a global proposition. In a bit of news I saw today regarding Amazon and Kobo:

          “The French ebook market will generate $442 million dollars in 2018 and 9.2% of the population reads digitally. The vast majority of users purchase their e-readers and ebooks via two companies; Amazon and Kobo. Kobo has a strategic relationship with numerous booksellers such as FNAC and Auchan. Amazon continues to be the most popular device.”

          • Brennan S. McPherson January 29, 2018 at 2:42 pm #

            And Kobo knows how to do things right. Excited to see how this plays out in 2018 and 2019!

          • Carol Ashby January 29, 2018 at 3:20 pm #

            Fascinating, Steve. I sell into western Europe via, but I can’t tell which specific countries for a give sale because that’s hidden in the exchange rate and different VATs. I haven’t figured out a formula to back the country info out yet.

  2. Judith Robl January 29, 2018 at 5:14 am #

    I’m eager to see how this plays out over the next year or two. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Also, thanks for the mention of The Christian Writers Market Guide. Reminds me I need to renew my subscription.

  3. Carrie Turansky January 29, 2018 at 6:35 am #

    Thanks for this information! It gives me much to consider as I look ahead. I love audio books and have been an audible member for about three years. I think this type of “reading” will continue to grow. I’m glad some of my books are available as audio books, and I hope the next ones will be too!

  4. Heather Day Gilbert January 29, 2018 at 6:43 am #

    Thanks for sharing this relevant information for authors! Good to see the ebook and audiobook markets expanding! As an indie author (well, hybrid, but my indie books are the ones I control), I have expanded into iBooks, Kobo, and Nook via Draft2Digital and I also have audiobooks through Audible. I do hope Walmart figures out a way to sell ebooks/audiobooks in a way that will provide some competition to Amazon. I think if anyone stands a chance of doing it, Walmart does, especially with an established book seller like Kobo. Draft2Digital has already opened the door for indie authors to list their books in Overdrive, a library ebook borrowing service. Exciting developments for indie authors, for sure.

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 29, 2018 at 8:14 am #


    My gut feeling is that for most indie authors, exposure is more important than Amazon’s benefits offered with exclusivity.

    There might be some interesting demographics at work, too; my impression is that Apple products are a bit more expensive, and tend to be favoured by the Young, Hip, and Well-Off (or those that want to appear well-off), people who want an all-inclusive device. Certainly this is the picture Apple’s adverts paint.

    The rest of us either have a Kindle, or have downloaded a Kindle app to the ‘other-brand’ smartphone.

    Love to hear your thoughts.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 29, 2018 at 8:17 am #

      Stupid of me…submitted before finishing the thought.

      If the demographic hypothesis is true, then it would stand to reason that ‘edgier’ books aimed at millenials might get a bit more traction with an Apple-compatible edition, while more traditional writers might find Amazon Exclusivity more appealing.

    • Carol Ashby January 29, 2018 at 10:13 am #

      There’s a Kindle app on my iPhone, so even the Apple fans have access to what Amazon provides. Plus they can access anything they bought on other platforms they own (PC, MAC, Kindle Fire or reader, pretty much anything Android). My two millennials like print, but they contentedly use Amazon when they do ebook.

  6. B Anderson January 29, 2018 at 8:21 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and for clarifying news items. It is nice to have a trusted source for such information.

  7. Carol Ashby January 29, 2018 at 9:01 am #

    Fascinating, Steve. Diversifying is good, but it can have a downside. I have my books up at B&N for the folks who have committed to Nook readers (Some people I know are truly devoted to their Nooks, even though they can’t always get the books they want there.) I’ve considered putting my books up at Kobo before, and I will reconsider it now they are going to have Walmart’s market clout to help them. That might especially boost my paperback sales at Amazon if someone finds the Kobo ebook but prefers print.

    But my three novels move on and off the top 100 in two of their Amazon categories. That’s significant discoverability. I’ve almost made the leap to expand to other ebook distributors, but I hesitate because some of the international buyers (~10% of my sales) might leave Amazon for Kobo or iBooks. Would that be enough to keep my books from getting on the Amazon best-seller lists? Maybe, since they do move on and off with Amazon providing those international sales.

    For books on the best-selling borderline, spreading the sales across more platforms might not be a net positive.

  8. Melanie Kilsby January 29, 2018 at 9:26 am #

    I’ve known for a long time that Audiobooks would be a game runner alongside of ebooks because I use Audio over ebooks for my reading needs.
    They are an incredibly great resource for the ever-busy population, including me.

    The added competition will only benefit the readers and give more options to Publisher’s/Indie’s. It will also open doors to other company’s offering a platform for businesses as a liaison to the different companies like the one you mentioned above,

    It will neat to watch what avenue brings in more profits as time goes on. I use OverDrive exclusively through my library because of how easy it is to use. You just click and open in browser. No extra downloading of the product, no app to find on any App Store and then download. Nothing.
    I think the biggest thing is accessibility and availability. Which platform will cater to it and have the greatest user-friendly platform.

    All-in-all, great things are to come!
    Thanks for the insight Steve!

    • Steve Laube January 29, 2018 at 10:12 am #


      You may find it of interest that the same company (Rakuten) that owns Kobo also owns OverDrive.

  9. Teish January 29, 2018 at 10:35 am #

    It will be fascinating to watch how this changes the industry. I’ve used both mobi and ePub as a reader, but heavily favor mobi. Amazon’s kindle app has the best interface by far. I would say the same of the audible and Amazon music apps as well. I have apple devices, but prefer buying/reading/listening with Amazon because of the better interface.

  10. Margo Carmichael January 29, 2018 at 11:11 am #

    Wow, Steve, thank you so much for all this important information. I now feel like the dear old grandfather in “Moonstruck” when he burst into tears and said, “I’m confused!”
    I shall make a chart! Much to think about.
    Thank you again.

  11. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D January 29, 2018 at 11:32 am #

    Thank you so much for this information, Steve! I appreciate how you keep us up to date!

  12. Vanessa Burton January 29, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

    Interesting information to know! It’s exciting to see how different forms of reading are evolving with the times!

  13. Sylvia A Nash January 29, 2018 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks for posting this.

    • Carol Ashby January 29, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

      Great to see you back, Sylvia!

  14. Susan Wingate January 29, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    Thanks for this breakdown. Up until now, I’ve gone exclusively with Amazon for my self-pubbed titles. However, I will be expanding across publishing platforms now. I think the time is right.

  15. Ned Barnett January 29, 2018 at 1:51 pm #

    This reinforces my intent to (at least initially) go straight Amazon for my new (forthcoming) book: Write Now! … Writing YOUR Book to Attract New Clients and Transform You Into a News Media Expert.

    While I applaud marketplace diversity, Amazon will not lose its 80% market share without a fight, which means they will do more for their “exclusive” authors to keep them there – and happy.

    I will also be making this recommendation to my writing clients. Walmart may be able to take their alliance with Kobo and do something good for authors; however, I’ve had (non-writing) clients who were driven out of business by Walmart’s predatory business practices, which work for them but at the expense of their vendors. I’d hate to have that happen to me or my authors.

    Still, times are a’changin’, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled. It’s like my dream of being the 42nd man to land on the moon – had it been possible, it would still have been a fascinating journey, but the previous 41 men would have worked out some of the bugs. So I won’t be the first to hop on the Walmart/Kobo bandwagon, but I will keep watching, waiting for the right time

    Please check out my blogs on writing and marketing books at

    • Brennan S. McPherson January 29, 2018 at 2:45 pm #

      Except that Kobo treats authors well. I doubt a partnership with Walmart would ruin that. It’s just broadening the marketplace.

  16. Laura Bennet February 6, 2018 at 8:00 pm #

    Thank you for this very informative post. I appreciate your dedication to helping all authors (whether traditional or indie) by keeping us posted on these updates in the publishing world.

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