Thursday, March 17, 2011

January 2011 Ebook Sales

The graphs are back and they have one thing to say: January 2011 was a great month to sell ebooks and a really bad one to sell print books (pbooks). In particular, the sharp drop in paperback sales point to an industry disproportionately hit by the Borders bankruptcy. It was the first month that kid's pbooks were down (albeit, mostly paperback).

Why disproportionate? Borders was suppose to be 10% of book sales and we see paperback books hit far more than 10%. It could be that Borders was that dominate in the mmpb, adult paperback, and children's paperback... Or that ebooks are decimating that category.

I could post this image and call it a good blog post.

I've added red lines to show the prior year trends in ebook sales. Also note I try to estimate indie/small publisher sales. I'm certain I'm underestimating indie/small publisher sales, but we have to start somewhere! :)

Notice how the slopes are accelerating? That implies we *are not* at the half way point of ebook adoption. I know... obvious. But some still try to argue ebooks will end at 25% of the market... Which is my segway to the next chart. Since pbooks had such a bad month in January, its possible we won't just hit the tipping point in 2011 but that we did it in January! (Oops, talk about being off and predicting it in 2012...) If this isn't a one or two month blip due to the Borders bankruptcy (which it could be), this implies a fast acceleration from pbooks to ebooks!

FWIW, the 20% market share as the 'tipping point' is based on moving enough vendors and customers to ebooks (or any emerging technology) to shift which product is easiest to either buy or sell. I'm very curious to see if by screaming past 20% we haven't done a 'step change' in the book industry; a step change the Borders bankruptcy and its 275 store closings might be forcing.

So let us start by putting ebook sales in perspective of their scope of the *total* trade sales. If we use my estimate of indie/small publisher sales, it is $88 million (ebook) versus $228 million. Suddenly ebooks are showing up on the chart! I calculate 27.89% of the market was ebooks (when we include indie/small pub ebooks). No... I'm not going to talk about only the sales of 14 AAP publishers versus 400+ publishers (of which 88 are in the AAP) and all of the DTP authors.

Do note the dive in trade sales was mostly paperback. Paperback as in mmpb, adult paperback, and children's paperback. The hardcover sales did better... so more graphs to show that. Show that ebook sales, for the first month ever, exceeded hardcover sales!

You might note that I should compare ebooks with hardcover plus other sales... yep. That is why I posted versus trade ebooks. But look at the comparison versus mmpb. Or... there is no longer a comparison. I'll keep publishing this graph. But don't ever expect to see mmpb selling better than ebooks ever again. Ebooks in January sold as well as a good month of mmpb. With all those bookstore closings and all those smartphones being sold, the tipping point for mmpb has arrived. In a negative way... :( (I love mmpb... I just prefer my Kindle over mmpb.)

Take a good look at the above graph. If mmpb does not recover within a few months, the business of making the books will have to consolidate quickly and in a drastic manner. I've blogged before about the tipping point. If mmpb does not recover quickly, the 'old technology' will lose economy of scale. It is absolutely the wrong time of year for mmpb sales to recover too...

Adult paperback sales (to wholesale) were weak in January too. Almost dead. Almost as if a major seller of paperbacks went bankrupt. However, the story is not as ugly as mmpb. Adult paperback sales can limp along at this pace for a while before suffering economy of scale issues.

For the first time since I started these graphs, Children's pbooks are taking a hit. It was all on the paperback side. I wonder if families buying tablet/phone apps (like us) had any impact?

Due to the amount of hand waving I see on these data releases, I like to publish seasonal graphs that show how each type of book did versus sales in prior years. Now... January doesn't produce an exciting graph, so I'll just post without comment. Except to say, look how ebooks is the only format showing growth!


mmpb takes a dive:



The quick summary is that print book sales are hurting and ebook sales are doing well. In particular, I was amazed to see how spanked paperback sales were. I'm not certain if January was more due to ebooks or Borders. We might have a false indication we've hit the tipping point.... Or we might have blown past the tipping point.

Either way, there was a substantial shift in spending on ebooks! How I wish I could know the Amazon DTP numbers...

Got Popcorn?


  1. Fascinating, as usual. I look forward to these posts that break down the information with graphs and also include data on indie and small press ebook sales.

  2. MMPB are getting _crushed_!!! I'm a huge purveyor of MMPB, it being the most competition for my e-reader dollar. I don't buy hardbacks unless they're on the bargain racks. I just bought Robin Hobb's "Dragon Keeper" because it's cheaper to buy it MMPB than eBook...

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Tara,

    Thanks! I'm a geek... I look forward to seeing what changes are happening. If only the data lagged by less time and had more ebook sources.

    J.E. Medrick,

    Yes, MMPB is being crushed. In my opinion, far fewer titles will get published in MMPB if the volumes stay low. The 'economies of scale' of putting out MMPB are deteriorating. In other words, for the same quality, the unit costs are increasing. :(

    I used to read 2 to 6 *boxes* of MMPB per year (about 40 to 50 books per box)! (I didn't count the books read, I counted how many boxes I filled up with 'read mmpb.') Now, I purchase zero. If the price is too high, I wait. With kids, I just do not have the space for pbooks anymore.


  4. Updated the mmpb graph. I had two typos. :( (I referred to the current data band and data points as the wrong month. Otherwise, the graph was correct.)


  5. Wow, Neil! These graphs are awesome, as are the stats. I stopped by here after I read your comments on Joe's blog, regarding his experiment. Since you're such an avid indie reader, I thought I'd introduce you to DIVINE INTERVENTION, a suspense thriller about a covert team of psychic government agents searching for a deadly serial arsonist.

    Currently, DIVINE INTERVENTION is on sale at Amazon (Kindle edition) for $0.99 (lol), and I invite you to check it out. :-)

    DIVINE INTERVENTION, a psychic suspense - $0.99


    Cheryl Kaye Tardif,

  6. Is there any reason you don't make MOST of your graphs 233h x 450w. Doing this would mean no re-scaling by the browser and would therefore make your notes readable.