The Sky Is Falling! Rate of Ebook Sales Increase Is Dropping

The Sky Is Falling (Pearson novel)

The Sky Is Falling (Pearson novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not often comment on publishing and business matters.  I frankly do not know much at all about the publishing business and I really do not care that much.

But when I see articles like this one, I have to wonder if the professionals really understand much about publishing either.  The basic thesis of the article is that ebooks sales are slowing and might be declining.  His evidence is that by one measure ebooks sales are only up 37% from April 2012 to April 2011 after several years of more than 100% a year increases.

That is a reasonable point. After all in 2007 when the kindle was first released ebook sales were less than 1% of overall book sales.  Last year, after 4 years real ebook reader competition, ebook sales had increased to around 25% of all book sales.  This year the estimate is that ebooks are around 35% of all book sales.  Of course the rate of growth is slowing.  A growth rate cannot increase at 100% every year because it would soon be more than 100% of all sales.

And of course, there are many people that are very reluctant to buy ebooks and will hold out for quite a while.  And many heavy readers were early adopters because they were the ones that could justify spending $300-400 on a device that could only read books.  But when he talks about declining sales he mixes in print and ebooks being sold by online retailers, but excludes sales through sites that are not bookstore sites.  The problem is with his statistics more than actual sales.

The Sky Is Falling (Sheldon novel)

The Sky Is Falling (Sheldon novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the other stats were also interesting.  There were not hard numbers cited, but it was suggesting that fiction ebook sales are about twice as high as non-fiction ebook sales (not as number of books sold, but as the percent of books sold in each category.)  My guess is that what that means is that fiction ebooks are nearly 40% of all fiction books sold and non-fiction ebooks are around 20% of all non-fiction books sold.  Again this makes sense.  It is much harder for me to get the non-fiction books I want in ebook format.  Intervarsity Press has a number of new books I want to read right now.  But their process does not make their ebooks available when the print book is released.  They send the book to a third party to do the ebook conversion and there must be some formula for priority based on expected market because it can take six months or a year or more to get the ebook version of the book.

The author of this blog post buries what I find most interesting.  The fact that the research only is looking at major publishing houses and is ignoring self published ebooks.  My assumption is that the self published market is still fairly small.  But I suspect that it is a significant portion of the ebook market and is a major disruptor to that market.

Especially in fiction, you can find many self published ebooks in the $0.99-2.99 per book range.  Yes, some are crap.  But so are some books published by the major houses.  Even if self published books make up 10% of all ebook sales (I would not be surprised if that is a very conservative number) then that is enough to make the above numbers very questionable.  Non-fiction is still going to be based in the publishing houses for quite a while.  First, there is not a lot of money in non-fiction.  Second, non-fiction requires research, not just access to a computer.  So it is much harder to be an amateur author in the fiction realm.  And self-published book in the academic world is very frowned upon.  So the disruption in the non-fiction world of self-published books will be much slower.

Are ebooks sales slowing? Most assuredly!  Are people turning away from ebooks? Probably a handful, but the vast majority are still increasing their ebook sales.  The sky is not falling on the reading world.  It might be on traditional publishers.  But that is a business model and business models rise and fall all the time.


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