Still waiting for the hockey stick: IDPF Q2 e-book numbers show growth accelerating

IDPF final Q2Following up on Monday’s analysis of the growth of sales in e-books, the IDPF has released final Q2 e-book sales figures, which totaled $37.6 million. It shows accelerated, not exponential growth. That makes the resolution of early problems with e-book publishing, such as providing customers assurance their e-book files will be readable across devices over time all the more important, because any backlash now will cut off growth. It will be interesting to see if the Amazon 1984 event will stunt growth in sales.

Growth year-over-year reached 224.14 percent in Q2, slightly above the estimate provided here. More encouraging is the quarter-to-quarter growth of 45.75 percent, which is only a slight decline compared to Q1 growth of 53.57 percent. In previous years, the second quarter’s growth has fallen off more steeply from Q2, so the numbers suggest that growth is established based on the wider adoption of devices.

Nevertheless, the e-book market growth remains well below the exponential increases everyone would like to see. It’s a delicate time for this market.

Have e-book sales gone exponential?

Trade Stats_09_03The trend line for e-book sales has hit an inflection point, a glance at the IDPF graphic (right) and other data at the IDPF site suggests. The graph represents wholesale e-book revenue by quarter and, as you can see, Q1 sales leaped substantially beyond earlier quarters. Bookselling has always been extremely seasonal, with most revenue falling in the last half of the year, so the rest of the year may, if the increase continues, represent the beginning of a steep rise in revenue for e-books.

A certain perspective is needed with these numbers, however. They represent “wholesale” sales, rather than retail sales. For example, if you add up the 2008 sales by quarter provided here ($53.5 million) and compare them against the annual sales reported by the Association of American Publishers, which were $113 million in 2008, these figures only represent 47 percent of the total revenue from e-books reported. Moreover, they are slightly counter-cyclical, with later quarters in the year growing less than Q1 and Q2. In fact, these numbers are only U.S. e-book revenues for a small sample of “wholesale channels.”

I think, because of the absence of inventories with e-books, that a different word than “wholesale” is needed. It’s a small but useful sample that can be helpful in understanding sales.

In any case, the question still remains, does Q1 2009 represent an inflection point at which sales will increase on an exponential curve, the Continue reading

Challenge to Chris Anderson: Put some substance behind “Free”

Chris Anderson posts over at the Inside Google Books blog about his decision, along with publisher Hyperion, to give away free copies of his new book, Free. He suggests that selling hardcover and paperback copies will be helped by his promotional use of free copies, and that may very well be. He reports the book will hit the New York Times Bestseller list at #11 this week, which suggests that some physical copies are selling, too.

Okay,that sounds good, but it is necessary to back the argument up with hard facts, which I found the book did not provide, but the book’s sales could. I challenge Chris and Hyperion to release a full accounting of the book’s budget and resulting sales, as well as Anderson’s indirect earnings from the book, so that all of us who have read Free with interest and some skepticism can see for ourselves the financial results of this grand experiment. If the free Free release is not simply a marketing stunt, this disclosure should demonstrate that there is a profitable model and one that, when compared to Anderson’s earlier books, resulted in more sales revenue than when he was not giving away free digital copies.

One important point to echo from Chris’ post: He argues that everyone loves physical books and that they won’t go away, pointing to his own children’s love of the page. “My very digital kids feel the same way: they may never read a printed newspaper, but they love physical books as much as I did when I was their age.” My daughter has repeatedly told me she dislikes the Kindle compared to reading a book, because of her enjoyment of the tactile and visual pleasures of the page. I agree with Chris and his ┬ákids and my daughter that paper books are here to stay. The question is whether digital books will augment the author’s ability to focus on writing new works rather than simply marketing and milking old ones.

A good discussion to drop in on…..

Thad McIlroy has an interesting discussion of The Wall Street Journal‘s article about the Sourcebooks decision to withhold an e-book edition of its big Fall book. He raises a couple questions based on statements in recent coverage of e-books, including whether people who buy e-books also buy and read paper books, as well as whether graphics-intensive books would be better in paper than on the Kindle.

I think the Journal’s reported “one to two percent” of book sales now being accounted for by electronic publishing is well above the real number. I’ve looked at a lot of publishers reports and the aggregate industry figures, and it appears that the correct range of e-book revenue as a percentage of total publishing revenue is between 1/10th of one percent and a half percent. As a share of units sold, e-books account for two to three times the revenue figures, because e-books are sold at a deep discount to paper editions.

Amazon’s numbers suggest that Kindle users frequently buy both the paper and e-book version of a title in order to read in different settings. Frequently does not mean the majority, but the statements by Jeff Bezos last fall and in January were unequivocal, Kindle sales have not cannibalized paper sales and the Kindle buyer buys more books than the ordinary Amazon book customer. There’s no evidence that Kindle readers don’t read paper books or vice versa and, the categorical statement that no Kindle buyer also buys paper books is clearly incorrect. I buy both, choosing formats for different kinds of uses.

Publishing salaries: Locked in low gear

Publishers Weekly released its annual survey of salaries in the publishing industry and the news isn’t comforting, if you think publishing is path to riches. The average raise this year was 3.3 percent, the lowest during the five years of data reported in the article.

That figure masks the real condition of the market, since 35 percent of publishing employees got no raise and 35 percent more got less than three percent in added compensation. Only 19 percent of publishing employees got raises of more than five percent during 2008.

The bitterest pill for this ostensibly egalitarian industry is that women still make a third less than men overall.

Lots of interesting details on break-downs of salary by region, raises by role, and so forth at the Publishers Weekly site.

A permanent link will be in the Industry Stats pages of should you want to find this data again quickly.

Global Publisher Rankings change as Pearson, Reed Elsevier grow

The Bookseller, Buchreport and Publishers Weekly have released their annual ranking of book publishers, announcing that Pearson claimed the top spot from ThomsonReuters on five percent annual revenue growth, to $7.04B. Reed Elsevier, with $6.39B in sales for nine percent revenue growth, took the second spot, while ThomsonReuters fell to third on $4.86B in sales after the merger of Thomson and Reuters in 2008.

A PDF of the rankings by Euros is here and a dollar-denominated version of the report hasn’t been released. I’ll add a link when PW makes this available.

Building a Publishing Industry Statistics Resource

UpDownSidewaysI’ve begun to assemble a comprehensive publishing industry statistics resource that everyone can use, which I’ll be keeping up to date. Why keep all that numerical goodness to oneself?

The first two sections, Book Sales and E-book Sales, are up now. You can always access the page from the Industry Stats Up-To-Date tab at the top of the page, as well.

If you have pointers to sites and statistical resources you’d like to suggest in comments, it will be greatly appreciated.

If you are a publisher of statistics who charge great piles of money for comprehensive reports, I would like to publish summaries that will help everyone and bring traffic to your site, where you will certainly sell more copies of your paid reports. You can reach me through the About page of