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The Shift To E-Publishing

I met with a student last week who is about to join the class that I co-ordinate. I hesitate to use the

Amazon Kindle on Wikipedia

Amazon Kindle on Wikipedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

word teach, because to me the word “teaching” implies that one person tells the other what to do. While I try to impart a huge amount of useful and relevant information to the students, the thing that I think they need to do for the most part, is to learn how to think.

The student told me that she was really enthusiastic about English Literature and wanted to do anything in the field of writing, particularly to work for a publisher. She had tried to get an internship at a book publisher and so far had failed.

I asked her whether she had an e-reader. She did. I asked her what she knew about e-book sales. She looked at me blankly. I told her to go out and do some research on ebook sales, what the driving force behind them were. Essentially I told her to find out about the marketplace and to find out about the field of work that she really wanted to enter: the one that will exist tomorrow. (As the great ice hockey player, Wayne Gretsky famously said, the reason that he got so many goals was that he didn’t skate to where the puck was, but to where it was going to be next….

Then I thought that I would do a bit of research on the topic myself. It really is fascinating.

One thing that I found out this morning, is that it is quite hard to get any figures, which is remarkable, given that it should be much easier to gather the information for a synchronous set of electronic transactions. I suppose that this is a valuable piece of IP that enables Amazon and Apple to construct business and pricing models to recommend to their author and publisher partners.

However I did find out some sales information that may be useful.

According to the Association of American publishers in Q1 of 2012, (reported in Mashable) ebook sales overtook hardcover book sales for the first time. This was driven by the increase in e-reader sales, naturally enough.

Meanwhile The Guardian in the UK reported that

Three of the top 10 most popular Kindle authors of 2012 – Nick Spalding, Katia Lief and Kerry Wilkinson – were published by Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing.

Jorrit Van der Meulen, vice-president of Kindle EU, said: “Customers in the UK are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books, even as our print business continues to grow. We hit this milestone in the US less than four years after introducing Kindle, so to reach this landmark after just two years in the UK is remarkable and shows how quickly UK readers are embracing Kindle. As a result of the success of Kindle, we’re selling more books than ever before on behalf of authors and publishers.”

There is some potential to correlate chart positions and reported sales figures that could be useful. Publishers Weekly in the US has surveyed publishers to get a sense of the comparative sales of e-books and paper. And there is other data from the UK that has hard figures on some of the books, so you can start to see a pattern emerging that could lead to some interesting conclusions….

The following are the Publisher’s Weekly reported best selling Kindle books:

1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

5. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)

6. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)

7. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

8. The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst (Entangled)

9. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)

10. Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James (Vintage)

11. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)

12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)

13. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)

14. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

15. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)

16. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)

17. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (Vintage)

18. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (Jamie McGuire)

19. The Witness by Nora Roberts (Putnam)

20. 11th Hour by James Patterson (Little, Brown)

Following are some actual sales figures for hard cover and e-book from Future Book.

Selected titles from The Bookseller’s Top 50 books of the year

Pos Title Author Publisher Print volume E-book volume Print + E-book

 Fifty Shades of Grey James, E L Cornerstone 4,500,248 1,609,626 6,109,874
The Hunger Games Collins, Suzanne Scholastic 851,066 405,000 1,256,066
Bared to You Day, Sylvia Penguin 635,170 302,000 937,170
12 The Casual Vacancy Rowling, J K Little, Brown 394,754 59,413 454,167
13 Is it Just Me? Hart, Miranda Hodder & Stoughton 382,807 23,964 406,771
14 Before I Go to Sleep Watson, S J Transworld 362,177 286,740 648,917
17 War Horse Morpurgo, Michael Egmont 339,436 121,652 461,088
18 Call the Midwife Worth, Jennifer Orion 324,798 84,287 409,085
48 The Hundred-Year-Old Man . . . Jonasson, Jonas Hesperus 175,531 145,000 320,531

 What I wasn’t able to find data for, and which I am very interested in, was data on the rise of the phenomena of the Kindle Single, short books that can be read within an hour or so. This phenomena has apparently been a big contribution in Harlequin becoming a very significant player in the e-book market.
I would also be interested in finding out how the Amazon pricing models are influencing purchasing trends. For me, the advent of the $2.99 (and below) book price has to be a major driver of sales. It also seems that there are a number of niche publishers operating in this space. I wonder how long it will be before they are acquired by the majors?
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