Thursday, April 14, 2011

February 2011 Ebook Sales

Ebook sales did *far* better in February than what I thought was going to be a good month. It was a horrid month to sell print books. The collapse in print sales dwarfs the market share of Borders; since this is two months running either:
1. Borders was more important to the business than their market share implied or...
2. We're past the tipping point for e-books

I believe the charts show the later. I had to redo the y-axis on the ebook graphs due to the large jump in sales! Judging by the comments by indie authors and the success of backlists that 'work around' the AAP... I suspect I a severely under-reporting the non-AAP portion of ebook sales:

Take a look at the above chart again. The January to February spike in ebook sales is not seasonal. Ebook sales are skyrocketing! In fact, since 2005, ebook sales have dipped from January to Febuary, except for 2011:

So this leads to the natural question, how did ebooks do versus all trade sales? The other press has made a big deal that ebooks outsold one form factor or another of print books. What they should note is that ebooks were HALF of print sales in February! Note that the latest total trade sales is only a little below the scatter of the last 5 years... But then again, February is a very weak print sales month:

Or more precisely, when one does a conservative estimate of indie/small publisher sales I find ebooks were 34.87% of the February market. Note: February should be a weak print sales month, just not this weak.

Where are ebooks getting the customers? Unfortunately, my favorite pbook format, mass market paperbacks (mmpb) is taking a huge hit. Notice that as ebooks climb mmpb sales are plummeting? At this point I consider the form factor of mmpb to be uneconomical. The form factor's sales are too low to support the production of 'cheap paper' in my opinion. Perhaps print on demand kiosks can save the form factor? I suspect the selection of mmpb available in the second half of 2011 will be poor compared to prior to 2008.

Adult Hardcover was at about half the sales of a good year. I do not understand why this form factor was so hard hit. Borders was supposed to be dominant in paperback. So why is Hardcover so weak? Is it a lack of available hits? (Focusing on too few best sellers that were gifted already at Christmas?)

I'm actually pleasantly surprised that adult paperback was at the 'lower end of normal sales.' Why is this though? Borders is supposed to dominate this form factor! Did Borders restock COD big in February? Or... do the numbers suggest the whole print industry is undermined and Borders is just a scapegoat everyone is hiding behind?

Children's sales were on the weak end of normal. It wouldn't be worth noting except we're seeing a steady weakening in sales of Children's books. In my opinion, after a stellar year of tablet sales that we should expect in 2011, we'll see Children's books hit the tipping point in 2012.

Note: This won't be due to the Kindle. It is touchscreen driven. We're not buying nearly the 'teaching books' to instruct our daughters as IPad apps are far better for teaching letters, spelling, basic reading, counting, and early math. It will take a hundred million more tablets out there to really shift the market; that market shift is coming fast.

I like bar charts as they show growth better than other forms. Notice how much the y-axis had to change to support the sales growth of ebooks in 2011:

For completeness, I like to show seasonal graphs for all the form factors. This is a weak time of year to sell print books. Please compare to the 2nd graph. I'm not commenting further other than to say print sales are really weak:

There is no longer any doubt; we are well past the tipping point on ebooks! Who expected better than a third market share in February 2011? Not I, my main prediction has been 50% market share in January 2013. I didn't realize I was an ebook pessimist... ;)

Got Popcorn?


  1. Thanks, I always look forward to your analysis.

  2. Quick FYI: your second chart says "overcoves" instead of "overcomes" :)

    Also, these figures are absolutely amazing. I always look forward to these posts with a mix of curiosity, excitement and dread!

    The Borders closing sale nearest me was terrifying to witness. I went on the first day and there were only about 20 fiction books left on the fantasy rack, one to each shelf for two aisles front and back!

    I picked up a few nice 30% off books, but I felt like a vulture :P Let's pick the bones!

    Thanks for this information - crazy to think we're already at the tipping point!

    Liar, coming April 15th!

  3. Great post Neil. The AAP's suggestion in their press release that part of this e-book bump was down to new Kindle owners stocking up e-books never really made sense to me. Sure, it's a factor, but they bought MORE books in February.

  4. Well done on pointing out that e-book sales have traditionally fallen from January to February (which undercuts the AAP's claim that this is a seasonal bump).

    Do you think some of this is being driven by Kindle owners replacing their print books?

  5. David,

    Speaking for myself, my wife and I are already talking about doing just that. We have a TON of books. And we move every two to three years with the Navy. That's a lot of boxes, and a lot of weight, to move around. But we can buy ebooks of all but our absolute favorites and save ourselves a lot of trouble. And give ourselves more shelf space for decorations. Or just get rid of a few shelves altogether.

    If we're thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if others are as well.

    -Michael Kingswood

  6. I bought a Kindle recently and I've been disappointed by how few of my favourite authors are available for Kindle. There's a mountain of rubbish in the Kindle eBook store imo.

    Hopefully, that will start to improve when I put some of my work on there !

  7. David,
    I suspect the increased sales are to smartphone buyers (late discovery of the app post-Christmas and Android phones sold well early this year). Indie author sales spiked in February, so this has to be new customer driven.

    If it is Android phones, that bodes well for April due to HTC's newest phone launch. :)

    It could also be partially due due to Random House moving into the iBookstore. If that is the case, the IPad2 should help this numbers for March.

    Which authors are not on Kindle? I find far more selection than print books... And my favorite authors are putting their backlists onto Kindle!

    @J.E. Merdick:
    I'll have to fix the graph later. Thanks for 'looking forward' to this data.





  8. What is a bit puzzling is the rather strong February retail sales at bookstores, an increased of 9.3 percent, compared to February 2010, see

    Since these 'include sales of all products in these stores' I can only assume that some bookstores (probably the dominant B&N) are selling non book items like there's no tomorrow.

    Or perhaps the Census Bureau figures are as wrong as the AAP ebook stats?

  9. By the way this is fantastic stuff! Have you perhaps thought of putting this up at say teleread or ebooknewser for wider readership?

  10. I love your AAP graphs - they are always something to look forward to - thanks for all you do.

    Robin | Write2Publish

  11. Robin and Eng,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    These are wholesale numbers that lag the retail and, as you noted, are book only.

    I'm not 'prettying up' the text and charts enough for a wide audience. In the past for top conference papers and presentations it would take 80 hours of 'clean up work' to take what I've done to a 'wide distribution' level. I'm interested in the numbers and presenting them in a way that isn't... as spun as the typical press releases.

    I also would consider it really poor statistics to not compare back at least three years. e.g., Hardcover sales in 2009 peaked in September instead of October. From the 3rd to last graph, its easy to see 2009 was a normal year for selling hardcovers *except* for a shift. (Yawn..., 30 day shifts really do not count.) But for comparison last year the AAP really did some interesting spins on those numbers...

    The 5th graph, MMPB, makes me sad. It was, for so long, the book format I read enthusiastically. It has been over a year and a half since I bought a MMPB; ebooks are just too easy. But that doesn't mean I won't morn MMPB's passing.

    Oh, I really mean it when I say I just do not see the economics in that format anymore. Oh, most of the books could just have 'extended' hardcover releases or be released as 'trade paperbacks.'

    I'm getting together the pieces to blog on where ebook growth is going. That is taking a bit of research. (Which is quite fun!)


  12. Great post! And I'm so glad you've made the effort to pull together all those statistics! I blogged about this three days ago, saying like you that we are past the tipping point, and got some people angry at me, at least two of them accusing me of not knowing what I was talking about!!

    So again, many thanks for this precious information! As to where e-books are going, I agree with you that they are displacing mass market paperbacks. I think hardcovers will basically survive with non-fiction. And no doubt e-books are attracting new customers: all you need do to convince yourself of that is to look at Amanda Hocking's success with her books clearly aimed at the YA market...

    Claude Nougat

  13. Numbers don't lie, nuff said.
    CR Cowden