Don't Be Confused By Amazon's Ebook Sales Claims

from the not-as-big-as-you-might-think dept

Amazon seems to have a way with presenting information about its ebook sales in a way designed to mislead people into thinking it's more significant than it really is. You may remember last year, when Amazon announced that on Christmas day, for the first time ever, ebooks outsold regular books. That got a lot of press coverage. But it was somewhat meaningless. That's because on Christmas, plenty of people who received a Kindle probably decided to buy an ebook or three. And it's also a day when fewer people have reason to go to Amazon and buy a physical book, since they may have just received some books as gifts (though, to be fair, some may have received Amazon gift cards too, but you don't necessarily need to use them that same day).

The latest is Amazon's recent claim that ebooks are outselling hardcover books 180 to 100. Another nice headline that the press picked up, with various stories suggesting that ebook sales are now really significant. This bothered some folks who dug much deeper into the numbers over at the MeAndMyKindle blog:
So what happens if you ask how many "printed books" Amazon sold, instead of using the smaller number of "hardcover books"? Following the same ratio, Amazon would be selling approximately 334 paperbacks for every 100 hardcover books -- or a total of 434 printed books for every 180 ebooks. That would mean over 70% of the books Amazon sells are still printed books -- 180 out of 614 -- with ebooks accounting for just 29.3% of all the books that Amazon sells.
Add to that the twin facts that Amazon covers 90% of ebook sale and that it only represents 19% of the overall book market, and you get an estimate that ebooks represent about 6% of the total market. This is certainly a non-zero number, and there's no doubt that it's growing, so it's a trend to watch out for. But we're a long, long way from ebooks really being a majority of the market. As the blog points out, even Amazon admits that no ebook has sold more than a million copies:
According to Amazon's own figures, no ebook has ever sold more than one million copies. (Though Stieg Larsson's three ebooks, added together, total one million in sales -- an average of just 333,333 per book.) PC World reports Stephenie Meyer is close to selling one million ebooks -- though she's sold over 100 million printed books.
This isn't to say the ebook market isn't important, but Amazon's statements promoting ebook sales seem purposely designed to pump up the significance of ebook sales, which still represent a much smaller proportion of the market than the company would have you believe.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 3:45am

    call a pig a pig

    Just as you can't "steal" an ebook, you also cant "sell" an ebook.

    Amazon has not sold a single ebook to date. They only rent/lease.

     

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      Richard (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 4:23am

      Re: call a pig a pig

      Just to underline that point. I have bookshelves that contain plenty of books that are 30-45 years old, and a few that are older - some over a hundred years.
      Unless the ebook is released in an open format the chance of it still being there 30 years down the line is minimal to zero. Amazon may not even exist by then and the Kindle will probably be a non-functional museum piece.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 4:02am

    I think the Japanese guys and girls got it right, they started to blog their books that people read online one chapter per day, that is selling attention.

     

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    KnownHuman (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 5:33am

    The hardcover bit was just a little fun with words. Publishing likes to protect hardcover sales, because they are high margin, but they still make up a small portion of overall book sales.

    What's more interesting is that, even without being the dominate format, Kindle books are still making up 30% of Amazon's book sales. Or, 3 out of every 10.

    If we extrapolate that out even further, one propitary format sold through one single vendor - kindle eBooks - account for one 1 of every 17 books in the world.

    And though eBooks have been around a few decades, the Kindle has had a hell of an adoption rate in it's three year run.

     

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    zegota (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 5:54am

    "This week in Duh Magazine..."

    Marketing uses misleading figures to make their products look good!

     

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    Joe Smoe, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:09am

    books

    Just want to point out, that I think it is important to look at who is buying these new Ebooks. I'm in my early 20's and a digital media communications major in college. This means I'm whats considered a "native" in this digital age. I certainly haven't seen any kind of fundamental shift towards ebooks. The only thing I really find them convenient for is school. I can save money and keep all my books on my laptop, and take it where ever I want with ease. The bold claims of amazon.com are baseless and simply not true.

     

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      chris (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:30am

      Re: books

      Just want to point out, that I think it is important to look at who is buying these new Ebooks.

      i know two people who have dedicated ebook readers and are buying ebooks for them, though both of them have nooks instead of kindles.

      i have read quite a few ebooks, including novels, though i have read most of them on my phone and not on a dedicated reader, and most of them have been public domain/CC works via feedbooks.

       

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    Joe Smoe, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:09am

    books

    Just want to point out, that I think it is important to look at who is buying these new Ebooks. I'm in my early 20's and a digital media communications major in college. This means I'm whats considered a "native" in this digital age. I certainly haven't seen any kind of fundamental shift towards ebooks. The only thing I really find them convenient for is school. I can save money and keep all my books on my laptop, and take it where ever I want with ease. The bold claims of amazon.com are baseless and simply not true.

     

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    SaD, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:17am

    You are not making a very substantial point here - ebooks will of course far outsell printed books in the very near future. We are not there yet, but thats completely irrelevant.

     

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      DH's Love Child (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:46am

      Re:

      ebooks will of course far outsell printed books in the very near future

      Let me preface this by saying that I am a happy Kindle 3G owner. I don't know if the very near future is accurate.

      There are a few things that need to happen to make ebooks gain market share: I think until a common format is embraced by the different vendors, ebook sales won't really take off. It's interesting that the Kindle doesn't support the most popular format, epub, natively and yet sells more books than any other reader.

      The price of ebooks has to come down to realistic levels. It is insane that publishers are setting the price of ebooks on the same plane as hardback books. If they were consistently price more like paperbacks, I would buy more books. As it is, I look for legal freebies wherever I can find them (and there are tons of them out there)

      The last factor, I think, is that people love their dead tree collections. I love mine. I have some books that are over 100 years old and I have some sheet music that dates back to the 1880's. We have an emotional connection to our books that is hard to overcome. Physical books can be freely given away or borrowed in a way that ebooks cannot come close to.

      I think ebooks will eventually represent a significant share of all book sales, but I doubt it will happen for at least 5 years as some of these things get ironed out.

       

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    Justin, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:34am

    I think this is significant

    Take my grandpa for example. He used to buy a very substantial number of books (think 1 a week) and ONLY bought hardback. We bought him a kindle for his birthday and now he ONLY buys ebooks. So I think the point is that serious readers (the ones who would by the hardcover editions) are adapting to the kindle.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 8:33am

      Re: I think this is significant

      "serious readers (the ones who would by the hardcover editions)"

      I don't have a problem with the majority of what you say, but that bit???
      I'm actually at a loss for words, not a serious enough reader I guess, so all I can say is sheesh.

       

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    Ragaboo (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 9:13am

    Do Free Ebooks Count As Ebooks Sold?

    I think Mike missed another important point: One of the major selling points for the Kindle (at least, for me and many people I know) is that there are hundreds of free public domain eBooks that Amazon offers. The first thing I did when I got my Kindle was "buy" more than 100 of these free books and load them onto my Kindle. I'd imagine that many Kindle owners do the same thing. Also, many authors "sell" free short stories or older books in some series they write (to entice people to pay for the later books in the series).

    I get receipts for these free books, and that leads me to believe that as far as Amazon is concerned, they "sold" me that free book. If that's the case, their eBook numbers are even more meaningless.

     

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    mojo, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 11:01am

    I think you're reaching for a story that isn't there.

    If Amazon had said E-book were outselling BOOKS, that would be a story - but they specified HARDCOVER books from the beginning, and I don't think anyone was confused.

    The point of their announcement was essentially "look, e-books are catching up and growing in popularity" which is true. The sales figures of the hardcover books thing, IMO, was an interesting statistic to back that up.

    I don't smell foul in any way, shape or form.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 2:44pm

    Hardcovers = New released books.

    The reason they said HARDCOVER books is because all NEW books are generally in HARDCOVER ONLY.

    Basically they are saying the ebook format is outselling recently released books 180 to 100. That is VERY significant.

    Also, the prices for ebooks are fantastic. Instead of paying $25 for a new best selling hardcover, which again, doesn't have a paperback version yet, I paid $13 for the ebook version.

    My Kindle is saving me an absolute fortune right now. All new releases are cheaper on the Kindle for the most part.

     

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      Jim, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 8:57am

      Re: Hardcovers = New released books.

      If you want to talk savings, you can save even more by checking books out of a library. Why pay anything at all when you can get all the reading material you want for free at a library?

       

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    Dave Cullen, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 9:10am

    Excellent points--questions on data

    It was an excellent piece--very good points. (Mojo, and others, I think most readers DID misunderstand. Most people outside the industry have no idea about proportions or hardcovers to paperbacks, or how the industry classifies things. All most people heard was "ebooks outselling paper.") I also ebooks are suddenly exploding, growing at an incredible rate, though still a much smaller market share than some of these stories suggest. I think that was the point of the piece. I am wondering, though, where you got these two percentages: "...Amazon covers 90% of ebook sale and that it only represents 19% of the overall book market" I had heard estimates of closer to 80% of ebook market and 10 percent of overall book market. I'd like to know the actual rates, so if your numbers are solid, I'll throw mine out. Where did they come from? (I wrote Columbine, and I'm always trying to gauge what my Amazon sales mean. It's hard to get sales numbers, except from Amazon.) Thanks. Thanks.

     

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    Dave Cullen, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 9:24am

    Amazon claimes 70-80% of ebook market

    FYI, I went looking a bit more and found this: In this CNET interview last month with Ian Freed, an Amazon vice president in charge of the Kindle, he said this about Amazon's share of the ebook market: "Honestly, something doesn't add up because we're pretty sure we're 70 to 80 percent of the market." http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_7-20012381-82.html (He was responding to claims from Apple and BN that they each had 20% of the ebook market, which would leave less than 60% for Amazon.)

     

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    cbreitling (profile), Jan 27th, 2011 @ 2:51pm

    It didn't take very long!

    1/27/11
    http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1521090&am p;highlight=

    Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com's entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.

     

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    cbreitling (profile), Jan 27th, 2011 @ 2:51pm

    It didn't take very long!

    1/27/11
    http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1521090&am p;highlight=

    Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com's entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.

     

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    nn, Mar 31st, 2011 @ 10:41pm

    Jeff Bezos is a liar.

    I am coming to believe jeff bezoe is a liar. everything he has said on this ebook deal is just lies. In one interview he talked about how they don't support epub because there technology is state of the art and they can't wait for other standards to catch up. What the hell is he talking about? The bottom line is he wants to enslave his customers and the blowback is that his customers can't check out a book from their library if their library happens to have a copy available or read other epub materials. it is bull. Jeff Bezos sucks!

     

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    Jim (profile), May 4th, 2011 @ 5:21am

    Ebook sales claims

    First thing first, Proceeding on the assumption that Amazon speaks for itself and not on behalf of the entire industry, my response is, "Who cares?" It's a trend, and you're all arguing about how much is in the glass as the pitcher is still pouring. It not quantifiable, but it is a reliable indicator, and eBooks are becoming more prevalent and will continue to do so, and probably will do so exponentially at some point, if they're not doing so already.
    As to which formats are used; again, I say, "Who cares?" If I'm selling a book and want to sell it as an eBook, I simply have a formatting service create files in the several various formats, and then sell the books at Amazon (Kindle), and iBooks (Mac format), and all the others (such as B&N) use EPUB. There's Smashwords too, but it's getting a bad reputation for a poor finished product. No matter what, everbody can use what they want, and any author can sell his or her books in that format. It's easy.
    Most sellers and formats are trying to create library access programs as well. If you want it, give it time. It's going to be sold in your preferred format soon. And like movies, it'll soon be out on eBook as soon as the paper version is published. In fact, that time is already here, as I recently bought an eBook on the day of the paper print book release.
    ~ Jim ~

     

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