Are Ebook Sales Really Declining?

If you are an author, especially an indie author, the question of on-going viability in the ebook market is of great concern. Well, it is of great concern to me because 99% of my sales are ebooks through the 'Zon.

I think the big 5 publishing houses would like me to believe the days of my indie success are over, that perhaps, I should go back to groveling for their attention through the industry gatekeepers, the agents.

I'm not ready to give up my indie status. Not yet.

Recently, I've come across two very interesting articles with opposing points of view on the subject.

It would seem that the Association of American Publishers would like the public to believe that the shift away from paperbacks to ebooks has reversed and the ebook market is in decline. Not great news for indie authors or small presses. Or for the many trees who will have to give their lives for the resurgent success of the paperback market.

Here is an excerpt from an article posted to The New York Times website.

“E-books were this rocket ship going straight up,” said Len Vlahos, a former executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit research group that tracks the publishing industry. “Just about everybody you talked to thought we were going the way of digital music.”

But the digital apocalypse never arrived, or at least not on schedule. While analysts once predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015, digital sales have instead slowed sharply.

But here's the problem with their data:

It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar.
Read the full article here.

While another site that monitors ebook sales on Amazon, Author Earnings, posted an article with a very different outlook for sellers of ebooks.

Here is an excerpt from the article.

The widely-heralded “plateauing” of the US ebook market has gotten plenty of press over the last 18 months, fueled primarily by these reports of declining ebook sales from the AAP, from Nielsen, and in the released quarterly financials of the Big Five.
Traditional publishers and publishing industry pundits are claiming that the broader US ebook market has now flattened, or is even shrinking.
But at the same time, the largest ebook store in world is telling the Wall Street Journal that the exact opposite is happening:
“Amazon says e-book sales in its Kindle store—which encompasses a host of titles that aren’t published by the five major houses—are up in 2015 in both units and revenue.”
You can read the full article here.

So are ebook sales declining or not? No, I don't think so. Author Earnings further reports:

But right now, as of September 2015:
  • “Nontraditionally-published” ebooks from indie self-publishers and Amazon publishing imprints make up 58% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in the US.
  • Traditionally-published ebooks make up 42% of Kindle ebooks purchased in the US.
  • When the AAP reports “declining ebook sales”, they are describing the shrinking portion of the US ebook market held by their 1200 participating traditional publishers, whose share of the broader US ebook market has fallen in the last 18 months from 46% of all Kindle ebook purchases to less than 32%.
This dramatic market share shift has not gone entirely unnoticed in traditional-publishing circles. In July, influential industry veteran Mike Shatzkin observed that:
Ebook sales for big publishers may be declining but they’re being replaced by indie sales at lower prices (their USP) at Amazon.”

When the big 5 won their war with Amazon and began setting their own prices for ebooks, my sales soared. Is this just my experience or is this indicative of a larger trend in the market away from the higher prices set by the big 5? Did the big 5 basically shoot themselves in the proverbial foot?

No one is going to want to pay more for an ebook when you can get the paperback cheaper at Walmart. The big 5 were intentionally using this strategy to tank the ebook market and bolster the dying paperback market. So, yes, the big 5 ebook market was going to decline.

Readers who follow authors published by the big 5 are going to remain loyal and purchase the paperback if the ebook is more expensive. But what about those readers who have gotten used to the lower price of ebooks? A lot of them have migrated to independently published books.

I think the big 5 should break out of the denial their living in and quit believing that their segment of the publishing industry is the only segment that matters.

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