Posted on 09/25/2015 at 12:00 AM by Jeffrey Bruner

The New York Times raised eyebrows this past week with a story claiming that ebooks were losing popularity and that a “reverse migration” was happening back to print.

I’ll pause so you can laugh at that absurd notion.

Alexandra Alter might sound convincing to someone who doesn't know anything about the publishing industry. 
 
There’s this paragraph:
"Ebook sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago."
 
Alarming, right?

Nope.

 
The Association of American Publishers, which include the Big Five, are primarily companies that publish both traditional and digital formats, and they’ve been aggressively raising digital prices on bestsellers. 
 
Some examples:

  • Lee Child’s “Make Me”: $14.99 ebook, $16.28 paperback.
  • David Lagercrantz’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”: $13.99 ebook, $16.77 hardback.
  • Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s “Big Magic”: $11.99 ebook, $13.72 hardcover.
  • Jonathan Franzen’s “Purity”: $14.99 ebook, $16.80 hardback.

When you reduce the price incentive to go digital, some people will opt for a hardback or paperback. Duh. Remember that the digital-only generation – those growing up with tablets instead of a pile of textbooks – is still a small (but growing) percentage of the book-buying public. The rest of us read in both formats and price will be a factor in our decision.
 
Other parts of this story make me cringe, too:

  • It notes the decline of sales of dedicated e-readers and the growth of tablets while failing to include the obvious: tablets are a great way to read ebooks.
  • Penguin/Random House’s expansion of an Indiana warehouse is shown as example of faith in the future of print, yet ignores the fact that the company is closing a similar-sized warehouse in New York state. Yes, companies that merge often consolidate operations to increase efficiency. They do that.

Now, let’s tackle the biggest hole in this story: the ebook numbers of the Association of American Publishers account for only 32% of all Kindle ebooks sold by Amazon. Thirty-two. 

You can’t draw conclusions about the state of an industry while ignoring two-thirds of it! (On the other hand, apparently you can and that's how stories like this happen.)
 
So how are things going for indies? Quite good, according to the latest monthly report by the data-crunching geniuses at Author Earnings:
 
"When we first started analyzing Kindle sales in February 2014, traditionally-published authors were taking home nearly 60% of the ebook royalties earned in the largest bookstore in the world. Not anymore. Today, traditionally-published authors are barely earning 40% of all Kindle ebook royalties paid, while self-published indie authors and those published by Amazon’s imprints are taking home almost 60%. From an author-earnings perspective, in 18 short months, the U.S. ebook market has flipped upside down."
 
Sounds pretty rosy to me ...

Comments
<p>Dead-on accurate in every way, and a perfect rebuttal to the NYT piece. Traditional publishing doesn&#39;t seem to understand how it&#39;s cutting its own throat. They became so obsessed with putting Amazon in its place, they didn&#39;t realize just how much value they were getting out of the way Amazon was controlling pricing. And it isn&#39;t like Amazon is going to object to charging and making more per book. This isn&#39;t a zero sum game, but the Big Four sure seem to want to play it like one. The thing is, if someone buys one of my books, it&#39;s not like Neil Gaiman or Stephen King or John Scalzi just lost a sale. Readers aren&#39;t choosing one book over another. They&#39;re mostly just choosing which books they&#39;ll read in what order. And the more expensive publishers make their books, the easier it is for readers to choose an indie author first.&nbsp; If there&#39;s any competitive imbalance or unfairness in the market, it&#39;s because the publishing industry built it, installed it, and keeps feeding it.&nbsp;</p>
Kevin Tumlinson | 05/24/2018 at 02:31 AM
<p>The funny part is even the AAP&#39;s own data says that the monthly stats do not reflect the entire market: http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/09/23/nytimes-mistakes-legacy-publishing-stats-for-market-stats-foresees-the-decline-of-ebooks/</p>
Nathaniel Hoffelder | 05/24/2018 at 02:31 AM
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