The Shatzkin Files


Do ebook consumers love bestsellers, or does it just look that way?


In theory, the more books are sold online the more sales should move to the long tail. Online bookstores have the advantage of “unlimited shelf space”. Nothing has to be left out of the assortment because of constraints on capital to stock inventory or room to hold it. Furthermore, as Konrath and Eisler pointed out in their extensive discussion of online versus print within the larger conversation about self- or publisher-issued, the differential impact of display when one title has a stack and another has a single spine-out copy is eliminated in the digital world.

But it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. While overall ebook sales in the US are still calculated in the 8-10% range of publishers’ revenues, so we’d reckon perhaps 10-12% of unit sales (ebooks generally, though not always, yield slightly less revenue per copy than print) or maybe even 15% for a publisher still drawing big print sales on books not available as or suitable for ebooks for whatever reason, we’re hearing frequent reports of big books selling 50% or more of their units as ebooks, particularly in the early weeks of their life.

So it would appear that ebook sales are even more concentrated across a smaller title band than print.

Furthermore, the occasional reports of enormous unit sales by the new crop of online author-stars like Amanda Hocking (coming next year to the bookstore that remains open nearest you) and John Locke also tend to support the idea that ebook sales are more concentrated, not less, than print sales. Unlimited shelf space and more uniform “display” don’t seem to be having the expected affect.

I recall a recent stat I believe came from Bowker, which tracks a large panel of book consumers, suggesting that bookstores still account for the largest single share, by far, of “book discovery.” What I recall hearing was that thirty percent of people report having learned about a book they bought from a bookstore display, much more than from any online source.

Of course, that’s certainly not true for Locke and Hocking and the books by Joe Konrath that aren’t in bookstores (although, as Joe points out, he does sell in print through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand program.) I haven’t seen anybody else talk about this subject, but Konrath also says that he gets a wildly disproportionate share of his overall sales from Kindle, much  more than the 50-60% market share one hears anecdotally attributed to them by publishers. I know from private exchanges that Amazon themselves believe they do a better job than the other ebook formats for the self-published author in proportion to their size. We’d certainly want that confirmed by more authors than just Konrath, but if they’re doing that as a strategy, it’s a good one. A self-publishing author won’t need a lot of persuasion to not bother with other outlets if s/he can get 90% of the expected sale from one (which is what Konrath leads me to believe is the case for him, even though he is widely set up among the other platforms.)

Be that as it may, the fact is that none of the online retailers have figured out how to come close to what a bookstore can do in giving a consumer real choices-per-second. And the principal tool that online booksellers could be using to overcome the disadvantage of 2-dimensional presentation — customized choices for each online customer — is very little in evidence (except as top-of-the-page suggestions) in my personal shopping experience (which extends on a regular basis to Kindle, Nook, and Kobo and on an occasional basis to iBookstore and Google).

The impact of presence and display was understood by all in the bricks world. A book that is in the store in which a customer shops has a nearly infinitely larger chance of being purchased than a book not in the store. Sophisticated merchants like Barnes & Noble know how much sales lift to expect from a front table display. We all expect the book that it is faced-out on a shoulder-level shelf to sell better than the spined book you have to bend down to see.

For years, aggressive sales reps would move their books around. In the years before computerized inventory record keeping, it was incumbent on reps to count the books that were on the shelf to coax out a backlist reorder; that gave them ample opportunity to face books out, move books up, and point it out when a book was displayed in something less than the optimal subject section.

Now the paradigm has changed. The default front table is the choice of titles on the screen that comes up first when a store’s program is opened. That’s almost always that retailer’s bestsellers (and, as far as I can tell, it isn’t customized for me at any of these retailers; you or my wife would see the same default screen that I would.)

Then there are a bunch of pre-packaged choices — think of them as “tables” too — for NY Times bestsellers or (at Nook I noticed) “ebooks under $5″ or under menu-driven choices of subject (they’re like “store sections.”) Of course, the earlier and more often a book is presented to a consumer in their online shopping experience, the more likely it is to sell.

The standard technique is that there are a set and limited number of titles a customer sees “at a click.” If you want to see more, you have to click again and (depending on connection speed) perhaps wait for more titles to load, which will usually be another 10 or 12 or maybe 25. If you shop the same sections repeatedly (and who doesn’t), most of what you see will be titles you’ve seen before and either bought or rejected. If you shop often, trying to find something new can be exhausting and ridiculously time-consuming.

Even the simplest assistance that would help avoid this duplication — such as displaying books in reverse order of publication (most recent first) instead of “by title” or “by author” — is not (or seldom) available.

Online shopping is great if you know exactly what you want (by title or author.) The online book shops can find you the most obscure book much more quickly than the average clerk in a brick store, and certainly faster than you’d find it yourself. Searching by title or author also almost always works extremely well.

But when it gets more complicated than that — perhaps you’re searching for “baseball history” or “Civil War economics” — the combination of inadequate publisher-provided metadata and insufficiently-mediated retailer choices will deliver you a menu of options that contains some titles so off base that a clerk would be fired for suggesting them.

The Lockes and Hockings of the world benefit from the same effect. They’re betsellers and every retailer has a button to deliver those, by genre and sometimes by pricing band. Getting bestseller status is so valuable that self-published authors seem to frequently employ the technique of  lowering their price to 99 cents to get bestseller status and then popping back up to a more profitable price like $2.99 until the effect wears off.

So ebook purchasers make their choices from what is presented to them, which is a limited number of titles. Let’s not ever leap to the conclusion that there is something about ebooks or about ebook consumers that is biased to the most popular. It is merchandising practices which create that result, not consumer taste.

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  • http://thereadingape.blogspot.com The Reading Ape

    Discovery does seem to be the remaining trump card for brick and mortar stores. Serendipity, word-of-mouth, and hand-selling seem extremely difficult to replicate in a digital bookstore, though I suspect Amazon and the like could do a much better job with social media in this regard. Great piece here.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Discovery is sort of a “trump card”, but it is spitting into the wind, I'm

      afraid. There will always be people highly conscious of the great shopping

      experience in a great bookstore, but they aren't enough on their own to

      support very many of them. As more and more people gravitate to the relative

      convenience of internet purchasing and ereading, even if they only do it for

      *some *of their purchases, it erodes the sales base any store needs — no

      matter how well it displays it stock.

      Mike

  • kfran00

    Here, here. (that's retail speak for merchandising).

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Actually, I think it is really “hear, hear”, which is even more aggressively

      merchandising!

      Mike

  • http://profiles.google.com/nathan.lowell Nathan Lowell

    Best seller status is good but it's far from the end all and be-all.

    There are a lot of people out there that aren't on the top ten (or even top 100 list) who are having huge success. David Dalglesh, Tina Folsom, and others that are hardly household names but are selling large numbers of ebooks. The few big names raise awareness for the market place and – once readers get past that very thin layer on top – they discover there's a deep ocean of quality content available.

    Sure, the front pages get the attention. Best sellers get more sales. It's nothing new. Authors who rely on the bookstore (or the publisher) to sell their books will always be at the mercy of the best seller lists, but that's not how the long tail market really works.

    The missing element in this discussion is “platform” and the reality that it's entirely possible for people who are largely unknown in the wider world to get a place on the shelf and actually sell enough books to make a six-figure income – and the first digit is sometimes bigger than one.

    The nature of the long tail is often mis-understood to mean there will be fewer “hits” or a more democratic disposition of the market. The reality is that the long tail means that there is now room for people who would have had no place in the market at all because their niche is too small or the capacity of the market to serve them is too limited.

    Rephrased: There wasn't shelf space for them. Now there is.

    Take an author that has a platform of ten or fifteen thousand fans–somebody who can effectively leverage social media to create a community around his or her work, somebody with the ability to turn out a book or four a year to service that fanbase and you're looking at a market that's completely under the radar of pundits and mainstream. It's a market made completely in the long tail and based on producing work tailored for a niche – hand crafted for the market it serves.

    In many ways, I believe that the focus on the big names and the “niche” nature of everybody else misses the reality that in a nearly $350m market, carving out a half million dollar “niche” is not all that unbelievable – even for people who are not Joe Konrath or Barry Eisler.

  • http://profiles.google.com/nathan.lowell Nathan Lowell

    ( sorry. realized i left out the “discovery” aspect… sheesh, why don't we have editors here?! :D )

    The point being that while, in the past, best seller lists and browsing for discovery were both important for finding new works to enjoy, more and more of that discovery is happening via social media and people are coming to the market in search of a particular author or particular title because they've heard about it somewhere else.

    I suspect they'll continue — genre specific lists provide focused access to content and the “also bought” listing give a huge let up for browse-fodder — but more and more, I think the real power of this market is linking a robust social media platform to the creative effort.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      First of all, what you're saying is precisely the concept behind Copia, the

      new ebook platform. It will take a while for them to build up enough users

      to test it, but that's the idea.

      So far I have not seen any *stats* to suggest that social media is selling

      books. One would expect to, but I haven't yet.

      But let's remember that discovery in bookstores is quite distinct from

      social media. It is clerk- and display-centric, not friend-centric.

      Mike

      • http://profiles.google.com/nathan.lowell Nathan Lowell

        Agreed.

        I think “bookstore discovery supplemented by word of mouth” will shift to “word of mouth supplemented by site recommendations.”

        I also think classic cause-and-effect marketing evaluation won't apply to social media, particularly in asynchronous media where there's a substantial temporal displacement between action and response.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        The asynchronicity is also a kind of permanence. No conversation ever

        actually ends.

        Mike

  • Jack McKeown

    Creating a real-time, customizable browsing experience online is the next great frontier for on-line bookselling. I believe that indie bookstores will have a distinct advantage in this space if, and it is a big if, they can develop the web tools to enliven the consumer browsing experience. The current IndieCommerce platform, for example, can only be described as primitive in its browsing capability. At Books & Books Westhampton, we are experimenting with new vertical landing pages based on subject categories (literary fiction, military history, mind /body /spirt; etc.) that mimic our store sections and customers' preferences. Ideally, these landing pages will refresh frequently enough to promote that elusive sense of “discoverability.” It is an interesting challenge, and we hope to persuade the ABA that it is one worth an organization-wide effort.

    • http://twitter.com/queridapatricia Patricia Arancibia

      I believe that big booksellers and online retailers are already and will be much better at personalization than any indie online seller can be. I think that indies can do better at the brick and mortar space, but online getting seriously personal requires a kind of investment and data base mining that gets a bit expensive if you are not big.

      • Jack McKeown

        The Amazon alogrithm in action: “If you liked this book, you will like Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and if you liked this book, you with like…Girl with a Dragon Tatoo!” I am sorry, the big boys may pretend to be better with their ersatz form of personalization, but the real bookselling interface for avid readers will require as much subjective art as science.

        There is a concomitant idea to that of a browsing interface developed at the IndieCommerce level: a national indepdendent bookstore consumer data warehouse. There are approximately 27 million hardcore independent bookstore shoppers. This is not an insurmountable number to capture and mine if indies could find a way to leverage their combined strength.

      • http://twitter.com/queridapatricia Patricia Arancibia

        “if you liked, you'll like” is more than 15 years old. By personalization people are talking much more these days. Anyways, “If you liked” might look a bit lame, but sells well, which is why it is still there.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        The tool *can *be improved on — that is, made more individual — but it

        still requires a commitment to scale. Humans can help, but only if

        technology helps them first.

        Mike

      • Peter Turner

        The old bookseller in me is interested in how this discussion relates to three scenarios and the difference in outcomes that occur in a space with limitless selection like Amazon.com vs. a curated one:

        1. You go into the two spaces with no particular item in mind. What happens? In the curated space I have a vastly greater likelihood of finding something that appeals simply because the choices are preselected and limited.

        2. You are looking for something very specific, a particular title. Online, you will always find it if it exists. In a curated space, you might find it but if you don't you might find something else you just as happy with (or happier).

        3. Now you’re looking for something very specific and you find it in both the Amazon-line space and the curated space. What happens? On the Amazon-space, mostly likely I check out and do something else. In the curated space, I’m much more likely to look around and hang out for the simple reasons that the content has been pre-selected. I found what I’m looking for and I feel like it’s likely I might find something else.

        I think these dynamics playout pretty much the same in an online and physical retail environment and their effect on what gets published and read in profound.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Powerful arguments can be made for the power of “curated” spaces that are

        communities. But let's remember that Amazon is already powering a lot of

        them through affiliate links.

        Mike

      • Peter Turner

        Yes, but I might want to say “siphoning the customers away from them” for “powering them.” Their affiliates don't get full access to the customer data for the purposes of re-marketing.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Yes, Peter, that's true. But the affiliates also don't have the expense of

        running a back-end operation.

        Mike

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Ah, you replied to Jack with a similar position to mine before I saw yours.

        I agree, Patricia.

        Mike

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      I think this will be really hard to do *except *at scale, which argues for

      some sort of ABA effort rather than depending on each store to handle it by

      themselves. On the other hand, there should definitely be an individual

      store component; that would make sense to consumer and retailer alike.

      Mike

  • http://twitter.com/queridapatricia Patricia Arancibia

    Hi Mike, hope all is well. An important data point to add is that AT LEAST 65% of online sales come from customers' search, not from merchandising or browsing. People get to online bookstores looking for a specific title or author and buy it. In print, the subsequent browse and search for and additional title to complete the free shipping minimum is very important too and does make a difference. In digital, that extra mile doesn't exist.

    Ergo, people come to shop looking for specific products that they heard about BEFORE reaching the store. That is why unless very special exceptions, such as Amanda Hocking, or people already famous and with both resources and database for self promotion comparable to those that publishers offer, getting noticed, let alone bought is not that easy.

    Of course, 35% f sales is still a huge portion. But I have always thought that it is a bit curious how we all use our promotional spaces to promote titles that are sold mostly via search, such as NYT Bestsellers.

    En fin, be well,
    P

  • http://twitter.com/mcsullivan Margaret C. Sullivan

    I tend to buy ebooks across the scale, from bestsellers to midlist to long-tail (when I can find digitized backlist books!) to indies and self-pubs to free classics. I find books by word of mouth either in person or on the Internet. I would think that most readers who are engaged online don't have a problem finding books to read–I have a backlog of over a year's worth of ebooks and yet I keep buying more!–but as you said, those who are accustomed to browsing in brick and mortar stores are probably not as well-served. I wonder why B&N/Kobo etc. haven't figured out a way to provide “you bought this, so you might like…” selections as Amazon did? Would it be possible to make such a feature without falling afoul of Amazon's patents?

    I am very fond of the “Cheap Reads”-type sections on B&N and Kobo, though. And I check the Deals forum at Mobileread religiously. That's probably why I have a humongous backlog of ebooks. But at least I don't have to dust them.

    Incidentally, I have a book published through an independent and the publisher told me that their sales from B&N went up tremendously late last year–probably not coincidentally around the time the Nook Color came out. Just sayin'.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Good anecdata, of which we need as much as we can get!

      Mike

  • http://mlouisalocke.wordpress.com/ Mlouisalocke

    Dear Mike,

    I think one of the differences between the ebook online sales environment and the traditional store experience is that you can quickly find “bestsellers” within genre categories and subcategories. This means this “bestseller” idea is really spread much more widely among many books than what the term means for traditional print books found in book stores.

    As a reader, once I have walked by the front tables in a store and by-passed the 50 or so best sellers (of all kinds of books), I head right to mystery and science-fiction books shelves. While most book stores do feature the most recently released, beyond that I have to skim through the shelves which are arranged alphabetically. Now, if I have an author in mind, this is easy, but if I am looking for a new author to try, there are few clues about sub-genre (which mysteries are cozies, which sf/f are fantasy) or popularity beyond the look of the cover.

    But, when I go to Amazon, I can look beyond the mystery category to a sub-category, and there I can see the books arranged according to “best-seller” ranking. It is also much quicker to glance at number of stars and positive reviews (compared to taking a book off the shelf).

    As an indie author this gives me a much better chance of being found by a reader who has not come to Amazon specifically for my book. My historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, is not the kind of book that would be likely to hit a best seller list as a traditional print book. It would rest nestled among all kinds of mysteries on a book shelf, making it difficult to find. But on Amazon, it is ranked as the number one best seller in the historical mystery subcategory. And I believe that is the way that the majority of the 10,000 people who have bought the book found it.

    How you get a book ranked high enough in a sub-category is another story, and I do believe that various topics that have already been raised, (social media, Amazon's various methods of featuring books, etc) all play a role. I have recently written a blog post, entitled 7 Tips on how to sell books on Kindle, where I explicitly compare selling in traditional books stores to selling in the Kindle store, where I address some of these issues. See http://www.shewrites.com/profi

    However, my main point is that the bestseller category on line is really significantly different than bestseller category for print books, and this difference should be taken into consideration in any discussion of whether online ebook sales are taking advantage of the long-tail. In my case it took 7 months to get to best seller status in my sub-category. If my book had been in print in books stores, by that time it would have been remaindered, and no one would be buying it. As an ebook, those 7 months didn't harm it one bit, but gave me as the author the time to figure out how to market it.

    M. Louisa Locke

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Online doesn't need to distinguish between “print” and “e”. I'm not sure it

      does.

      I think online merchants sell genre much more effectively than they sell

      “general”, and you've definitely put your finger on a reason why.

      Mike

      • Mlouisalocke

        Dear Mike,

        You are absolutely right, I needed to distinguish between on line sales of both print or ebooks versus brick and mortar stores, although as most indie authors have found, without easy access to brick and mortar stores, our sales of print books lag way behind our ebooks sales.

        In addition, at least at this point, with traditional publishers pricing their ebooks higher than print mass paperback prices, my ebook is actually more competitive than my print book (where self-publishing costs make it difficult to charge too low a price, and I am therefore less competitive.)

        However, again, online marketing strategies do help. While I seldom sell more than 50 print books a month (versus 1000 to 13000 ebooks), the stars and reviews for my ebook, the Amazon formula's to suggest books a customer might be interested in, etc, show up for those looking at my print book (since the product pages are linked on Amazon). As a result, in my category I occasionally show up in the top 100's and over all I often show up in the 100,000 or below rank of all books in the Amazon book store. My paperback would never be that successful if I was marketing it all alone on Amazon, or for that matter trying to sell it through brick and mortar stores. (I don't mean to sound so deprecating of my book, Maids of Misfortune, which obviously I am proud of and readers like, I am just trying to be realistic about what my success would have been without ebooks or eretailers.

        M. Louisa

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Every book has a different discovery story and obviously, with your

        experience and the experience of many others, it can be done now at a very

        highly commercial level without any help from bookstores at all. I think you

        make a good point that hadn't occurred to me that having a print book

        available — even through POD only — means you will show up in print book

        searches that otherwise might have missed you.

        It always makes sense to be available in any format you can be if there's no

        maintenance cost to the format. (That is: all you have to do is set it up

        once and all further interaction is about a profitable event.) But you just

        added a discovery and marketing impact that should provide extra motivation.

        Mike

  • Eric Christopherson

    A bit more anecdata for you, Mike. I make about 95% of my sales via Amazon, and I've engaged in online conversations with scores of self-pubbed authors, and my estimate is 95% of them will tell you they make at least 90% of their sales via Amazon even when their books are in all the other locales, B&N, Kobo, iBooks, etc.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks, Eric. This is consistent with what an Amazon executive has told me

      he believes about what they do. If they can leverage this, they can build a

      huge lead in title selection. I have to believe that many self-pubbed

      authors will be happy to do less work and get 90% of the sales.

      Mike

    • Peter

      And another bit of anecdata to consider; Amanda Hocking's Switched trilogy #1 has 3,219 customer reviews on BarnesandNoble.com and only 378 customer reviews on Amazon.

      Eric, perhaps YOUR pro-Kindle bias is limiting your success on the other formats, rather than the lack of consumer interest or author support… Just something to consider in your marketing.

      The differences may also be genre-specific. Based on the best-seller list, it also appears that chick-lit sells much better on nook- probably has something to do with the Sarah Jessica Parker commercials and colorful “covers”.

      But that may change, I'm a huge nook fan, and I'm a 28-year old dude who reads mainly non-fiction and sci-fi. The “rooter” demographic, if you will.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Boy, that piece of anecdata sure contradicts the *other* bits of anecdata,

        doesn't it? Although Amanda Hocking hasn't expressed herself on what

        proportion of her sales are Kindle versus Nook or others. Maybe her

        experience is quite different from Konrath's.

        I don't claim to know yet.

        Mike

  • Yvonne Barlow

    Ebook browsing is a frustrating experience, especially when it comes to fiction. The historical fiction button throws up 100s of pages of book icons of romance, saga, gladiator type making it a laborious process – it's even worse if you click on contemporary fiction. E-retailers need to allow browsers to use keywords to find new novels within those genre buttons.
    I became an e-book consumer before we began publishing ebooks, but our titles are lost behind the front page best sellers. I've talked to distributors here in the UK who tell me that the old book classification standards are good enough – they are far from satisfactory.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Yup. Completely agree…

      Mike

  • http://twitter.com/MJRose MJRose

    Mike – you are totally leaving out marketing outside the retail space. The self-pubbed authors you mentioned are all doing marketing of one kind of another to get on those best seller lists at Amazon. Wether its time and or money – the authors are getting the word out. Sometimes its free marketing but its still outside the retail space noise. Konrath has a blog with thousands of die hard newbies who adore him – and support him . When he first started selling his own ebooks they were there. Hocking was on message boards – she was a fan of the same fiction she was writing. People got to know her. buy his fiction no buying every book he put out in E and that got the books high on the lists. Others are buying Facebook ads, newsletter ads – some use my company Authorbuzz.com – but these books aren't only selling b/c of the bookstore.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      MJ, marketing outside the retail space is desirable and necessary whatever

      is the selling environment. The positive effects of marketing outside retail

      would certainly be enhanced by display inside retail. I left it out because

      it is part of the equation either way, and I'm talking about what we lose

      when the customer doesn't visit a bookstore.

      Mike

  • http://profiles.google.com/susan.schreyer Susan Schreyer

    While I agree that online booksellers are missing an opportunity to sell lesser known books by not having developed the cyber-magic equivalent to hand-selling, I don't entirely agree that the less touted authors/books are suffering as much as you seem to imply. I know a number of authors who are managing to eek out a living wage (or better) by having their back lists (books they've required the rights to and are now self-pubbing) work for them. I also know other authors (myself included) who have chosen the indie route and are seeing respectable income generated from sales. Sure, it would help my standard of living if B&N, Apple et al. gave a nod in my direction from time to time. I heartily agree they need to improve in that quarter.

    The current “hand-sellers” role seems to have been filled by the multitude of online reviewers who blog well and regularly about new books. Their impact in the world of book-selling shouldn't be discounted, much less ignored.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      I didn't mean to suggest and don't believe I implied that “nothing” exists

      for marketing outside of bookstores or etailers presentations. But the

      impact of bookstore display is huge and it isn't being replaced very

      effectively online. Yet.

      Mike

  • Gay Courter

    I've had 7 titles up on all ebook formats since September–5 novels, 2 non-fiction. All novels were bestsellers in the 80s and 90s but only few backinprint sales since. Sales have been increasing at 30% or more a month since then, money just pops into my checking account, and I have done no promotion any have no idea why. My best guess is the algorhythm “readers who bought this book also bought X” and mine are listed. Also, perhaps readers who like one, buy the others or recommend. Fascinating and far more rewarding than I had guessed.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Great story. Any author with a backlist who isn't getting it up online is

      just not cashing checks made out in their name!

      Mike

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.shockey Kevin Shockey

    I'd wager that this is just a adoption trend. As I've stated before, the software supporting the e-book market is very immature. As the technology matures, we'll get better software that helps us discover e-books out on the long tail. Where is the Google solution that makes it easy to search all e-book catalogs with a high quality keyword relevance?

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Even that won't be enough, Kevin. A keyword search of publisher catalogs is

      information from a fire hose, not curated choices.

      Mike

  • Bob Mayer

    I'm just not buying the numbers. Yes, publishers put out those numbers, but they aren't counting books outside of their reach and, frankly, they're juking the stats to hold on. I'm selling five times as many of my own backlist as my traditional publishers are. And I know a lot of authors, ranging from midlist to mega-bestsellers and they all say their royalty statements from June 2010 indicate 40-60% ebook sales, including #1 NYT authors whose print books get carted in by the pallet load to Costco. It's almost a year after that. My last 3 books from SMP had advances totaling over a million dollars and I'm walking away from traditional publishing. It's not so much where things are now, but where things will be a year from now. All the deals in PW I see every day are for pub dates at the earliest of fall 2012 and most are 2013 and I even see 2014. It's the digital world. Publishing needs to wake up.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      The publishers aren't fiddling the stats; you're just seeing the diluting

      effect of overall numbers, which include lots of books (children's books and

      illustrated books) that aren't hitting the ebook scale yet.

      Your point about leading the target is very well taken, but I'm not sure you

      aren't walking away from a big part of your print sale by abandoning the big

      publishers even over the next couple of years. I think we're in a

      transitional period where the stacks in stores are still a value-add, but we

      don't disagree that the day for that is coming to an end.

      Mike

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  • http://francistapon.com Francis Tapon

    My self-pub ebook breakdown: Kindle 75%, Nook 20%, Apple 3%, and Google 1%.

    However, I only put my book on Apple about 2 months ago, so I suspect it will pick up. Getting into Apple's iBookstore is more difficult than BN.com and Amazon.
    I am not in Kobo or Sony. They want you to work with an aggregator like Smashwords (which is what Konrath does), but Smashwords won't accept an ePub format. They force you reformat the book significantly, which I don't want to do just for Kobo and Sony. Let's hope Smashwords or Kobo or Sony wakes up to the 21st century.

    Also, you leave out another channel that clever authors can use. Their own online shop. Here's where they get 100% of the gains, not the 70% of Amazon. However, unless an author invests in a DRM program (and the related headaches), an author's own online ebook store will be selling DRM-free ebooks. For Konrath (who sells DRM-free books on Amazon), he couldn't care. However, I prefer DRM to prevent casual sharing (as you've written about). Nevertheless, I'm doing a DRM-free on my site as a experiment. Although Amazon still outsells my shop (http://ftapon.com/shop) 5 to 1, I like having my direct ebook channel.

    Oh, and I also sell 5x more ebooks than physical books (hardcover $25).

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Great anecdata, Francis. Thanks so much for sharing this. Your insights and

      information are very useful!

      Mike

  • Wolferiver

    I must be the orneriest cuss in readerland. I have had a Nook for about a year, but have found that browsing for books with it is the most miserable experience ever. B&N's method of shoving the best sellers in your face at every turn is discouraging for someone who usually finds them … well, frankly, simple-minded and uninteresting. I enjoy mysteries, but find that I have to wade through pages and pages of titles that I have no intention of buying. Each page seems to load slower and slower, and finally I just give up and go to Amazon's website to browse titles. (B&N's website is hardly any different than the Nook experience.)

    I've come to the conclusion that buying books with the Nook works best if you already know what author's books you want. Unfortunately, this method makes it very difficult to discover new authors that I might like. Sadly, I'm so out of step with most readers that I find that I cannot trust most reader reviews, so they're rarely any help to me. Professional critics, on the other hand, rarely stoop to do reviews of genre fiction. I've finally come to the conclusion that my Nook will best serve me by allowing me to make electronic replacements of books I already own and love, and thus let me prune my bulging book shelves.

  • apokalypsis

    Great discussion! Here's some anecdata on social media….

    Way back in 2006 I was invited to an alpha test of a book-based social networking site called “shelfari”. I soon had “placed” most of my current library on my virtual “shelf”, just to show off and find people with similar interests. One of the coolest things about shelfari.com is that it would point out people who had the same books. And as I looked at their shelves, I saw other authors whose works had sounded interesting. I also joined book and writer discussion groups. A few years ago, amazon.com acquired shelfari, and now they are hooking it into the kindle. (I will probably quit shelfari, because they want us to link our amazon account to our shelfari accounts, and I don't like kindle's content model, but goodreads.com does the same thing, and it has even more members now.)

    My book reading has not only increased significantly, but it has also diversified. My non-fiction reads are deep in the long tail, and I have incorporated more world lit and backlist into my fiction tastes (as well as discovering new faves in science fiction). All thanks to people discussing and displaying books that they loved. This has almost entirely taken the place of bookstore displays for me, and I frequently find that my neighborhood B&N or Borders don't even have the books I want in store.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks for this. I know this works for a lot of people, even though it

      doesn't feel like it is for me. I would wonder what you'd think of Copia,

      with whom we worked for some time. Their entire raison d'etre as an ebook

      company was to mix the social component right into the reading experience. I

      am not sure whether they have enough audience to make it work but their

      concept was strong and right on what you're talking about here.

      Mike

  • Jan Whitaker

    When I go into the Sony Bookstore I am hit by the “front table” which I find so uninteresting that it almost kills my determination to find something to read. I've found that unless I already know exactly what I want, I won't even go to the Sony site. For the more discriminating reader it's like a gourmet being forced to walk through a mall restaurant court on her way to a fine restaurant.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Never shopped Sony. Thanks for the info.

      Mike

  • Davidsbooks

    People go to bookstores these days to discover books, then go online to buy them. People go to bicycle stores to test ride bikes, then buy them online to save a few bucks (and duck the sales tax). The effect on the local seller is just what you would expect (eventual extinction).

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Yup. And the irony is that the most expensive books of all are big art books

      that you couldn't see properly online but might not want to carry home from

      a store in any urban situation without a car.

      Mike

    • Peter Turner

      Totally, but it's not like each of us doesn't have a choice about where we spend our money and how we derive benefit from that transaction. Thought, I confess, I have on occasion bought from Amazon.

  • marytod

    Hi Mike – I'm late to the party on this post, however, your thesis makes me think of the shift, already made in other businesses, from old-fashioned customer service to self-service. Once again – like phone companies, power companies, government agencies and others – the consumer gets to do all the work. In this case, consumers are readers who now have to weed through the equivalent of being on hold for twenty minutes in order to find a suitable book or two. Fortunately, readers are clever and will eventually find a wider selection of books than those presented by Amazon, Nook, Google and so on. Or other services will emerge and grow as recommenders in various niches offer suggestions to like-minded people.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Once again, Mary, we agree.

      Mike

      • marytod

        well, we shouldn't make too much of a habit of it!

        PS – I did a post on the long tail recently linking it with the theory of Porter's Five Forces model for strategy to suggest that writers could emerge as winners in the new world of publishing. I'm optimistic.

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