Tuesday, June 28, 2011

April 2011 Ebook Sales

Quick summary (from last post):
Trade books are at 2005 levels and after inflation that isn't a good thing...
MMPB is at half the $ sales pre-ebooks
In general, print book sales were weak, but not horrid.
Ebook sales are still growing fast. Faster than the 2010 growth rate.

The first graph will deal will the fast growth. I draw lines for the sales trends of prior years. As long as 2011 sales are above the 2010 line, that tells us growth in ebook sales is accelerating.

Now let's look at the AAP numbers, without my estimate of non-AAP ebook sales and look at the market share of ebooks. Growth is strong year over year, but we're starting to see a seasonal 'weakening' after the strong initial sales 'post unwrapping the gifts.' I'm very curious to see if this trend continues in 2012.

I also find it interesting that ebooks jump to a new market share at the start of each year, fade a little, and then recover to that market share during the hectic Christmas book selling season.

I do an estimate on 'non-AAP' ebook sales. 10% in December 2009 and 20% in December 2010. I then just extrapolate a linear trend... I know. Two very approximate data points and then an extrapolation. That's ok, I'm certain indie ebook share is growing faster; but since I'm numbers oriented, I have to start somewhere as my basis and I prefer to be constant and conservative:

The constant is that we're about the 'tipping point.' Hence why we're hearing about JK Rowling, Harlequin backlists (ugh...), and others jumping onto the ebook bandwagon.

Trade sales are hanging back at 2005 levels. Not a good place to be after inflation...

Before ebooks, my favorite genre was MMPB (mass market paper backs). Sales in an 'ok year' should be over double the April 2011 sales. :( When I include my estimate of non-AAP sales, ebooks are almost (no quite) quadruple MMPB sales (94.9M vs. 28.5M). I'm very sad to say that MMPB sales have dropped below economic viability. Oh, there is an option here of POD augmented with higher production for popular titles (say to sell at airports); but mostly MMPB is doomed to fade away. :(

It isn't a question if I bought over a thousand MMPB in my life, but how many thousands... I don't have the words to express my excitement over ebooks while seeing my favorite form factor of pbooks doomed... (Note: Given a choice, I pick ebooks any day!)

Hardcover sales are back at 2005/2006 levels. Sales aren't horrid, but they also are off too much to support as many book selling vendors as there are today.

More of the same with Adult paperback, weak sales at 2005/2006 levels. Its a good thing there wasn't a real estate bubble with the associated rent increases...

If Children's pbook sales being 'normal seasonal sales' is a 'semi-bright' spot for print books.

Seasonal Charts

I'm going to take a bit more time discussing my seasonal charts as there is some nuggets to be gained by plotting the data to show seasonal variation.

If you look at the bar chart numbers for prior years, in particular 2009 and 2010, you see we can expect a nice '2nd half jump' in ebook sales. It really looks like we're following a developing seasonal trend. A developing trend with exceptional year over year sales gains. The trends in the bar chart show how dependent ebooks are upon ereader sales which will only become more and more of a 'gift item' as prices drop. Until prices drop to the point ereaders are an 'impulse buy' that is. ;)

Plotting Hardcover sales show how deep the 7-year rut print has been in. As I watch one more year repeating as a weak version of the prior six years it shows that print had issues long before Amazon introduced the Kindle. What industry accepts a multi-year growth rut back when economic times were booming and doesn't switch strategies? Sigh... An industry that had to have its strategy change forced on it.

If hardcover was in a rut, Adult paperback is...

Prior year sales were double MMPB in April 2011. An old business axiom is that you grow or you rot. Unfortunately my old favorite form factor is the one rotting away...

I'm pleasantly surprised how well Children's books are selling. I have one bit of advice: Adapt to touchscreen apps quickly, they are the future of children's books if my kids and their friends are *any* indication.

The last chart is ebooks (AAP sales only) scaled with the same y-axis as the other scatter plots. Notice how since 2009 ebook sales are climbing? No rut.

The 'jump and hold' trend of ebook market share each year is interesting. But more important is that first chart. It shows continued *accelerating* ebook growth. If we have a year that starts to fall below the prior year's trend line, which will happen by 2014, it tells us that we're past the mid-point of technology diffusion. Since ebook market share is already spiking > 25% at the start of the year, theory tells us ebooks will assume over half the market. Since the rate of adoption is still accelerating, ebooks will be much more than half the market.

The only question is how much? We're trending towards about 40% market share at the start of 2012 for ebooks. That implies the peak will be above 80% ebook market share by 2016.

And we're only at 12% ereader market penitration. I remain convinced that 'convenience reading' on smartphones will 'suck back' a bunch of readers to ebooks helping expand the book market...

Got Popcorn?

Ps: Edited (added spaces to correct format). Enough graphs for ya? ;)


  1. Not a fan of romance novels, Neil? ;) Not getting April's numbers until the end of June... that right there is a good indicator.

    I love my MMPB, but the fact is my ebooks are just so darn much more convenient! Easier to carry, lighter, I don't lose my bookmark... (Kindle battery seems to last forever :P). Plus, when I forget my e-reader, I can pick up on my Smartphone, as you said. Who doesn't have a phone on them (smart or not) anymore?

    Thanks for your hard work, as always!

    YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward, Thief
    Adult: Shackled

  2. It is the convenience, variety, and cost of ebooks that are killing off MMPB. I love MMPB, but something was lost when I pulled out a box of books from the mid-1980s and found they were all rotted away from the acid in the paper (the hardbacks in the same box were ok and everything was dry).

    I've had a few posts to show that late numbers are a bad sign for pbooks...


  3. Thanks for the number crunching !
    What I find interesting in the last plot (ebooks seasonality) are the two highs.

    I "blame" the first, around Christmas (and/or after for 2011), on ereaders presents, and may continue to repeat until the ereader market is saturated.

    Funny also on the "Kids" seasonal chart are the 2005 and 2007 spikes on July. Without having checked, I guessed these dates corresponded to two Harry Potter books ... I was right.

    Will PotterMore have any effect on ebooks sales at the end of the year ? Not so sure, if Rowlings doesn't disclose her results.

    The second, around July/August, coincides quite well with Summer Holidays. I guess it will only amplify as the number of ereaders expands.

  4. @ The SFReader:

    Thanks! I agree that the 2nd 'seasonal bump' will grow as ereadership expands. I think ereaders as gifts will continue. The next step is loaded ereaders, sort of like custom IPods pre-loaded with certain collections. :)

    I'd guessed the two spikes were Harry Potter, but I had been too lazy to verify.

    Speaking of kids books, I wonder if there will be any spike with the LeapPad that arrives in August? Probably not, but the idea of a ruggedized kiddie tablet/reader is pretty cool. (I like LeapFrog's products in general.)


  5. I'm interested in the LeapPad as well. I have a series of award winning children's books, Priscilla the Great, that don't sell very well as ebooks because not many 12 year olds have ereaders. Will the LeapPad be compatible with kindle books? Or will they have a separate format?

  6. Sybil, I think the Leappad is targetted at younger children. Middle graders may be targetted by tablet/ereader sellers though in only a few more months (I hope). PotterMore may also open-up the market for other authors than Rowlings.

  7. It looks like I'll need to research more on the leappad. However, it is targeted for ages 4-6. I personally am looking for it as a 3rd birthday present. :)

    For middle graders, we'll need a more economical 7" tablet. The question is, which one will 'stick.' Probably a lower cost Nook. ;)

    I cannot express how much I am a fan of touchscreen education for young kids. With my daughter and her friends it has been a revolution.

    I almost feel bad as we are buying fewer children's pbooks. But then again, we were only given about 400... (Seriously... two bookcases full of kids books. One reason daddy had to give up pbooks; we ran out of shelf space!)

    The LeapPad really looks to be a closed system for LeapFrog software only:
    "The LeapPad is set to be available in the summer for the northern hemisphere. The suggested US retail price is said to be $99.99, while each cartridge will run at about $24.99."

    I didn't realize it was $25/book! Yikes!


  8. A LOT of the Leap stuff is prohibitively expensive! I think it's a great system, but man they need to lower their costs and price points! Get these things into the hands of the masses! Make it so schools can provide them for their students as part of their education!

    YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward, Thief
    Adult: Shackled