International Ebook Sales

I never used to get the point of HAM radio, a bunch of (mainly) guys hunched over radio sets trying to make contact with foreign radio operators and sending each other postcards for proof. But I started selling my ebooks internationally this summer with E-Junkie and PayPal, and I've been amazed at how fast the countries have stacked up. I've also been amazed to find that each new country I add feels like winning a prize. I finally broke down this week and created an alphabetized list (manually, so no surprise if I got the order wrong), which is up to 28 countries:

Australia (15)
Brazil (2)
Canada (4)
Ireland (4)
Italy (2)
Malaysia (2)
Netherlands (3)
New Zealand
Saudi Arabia
Sri Lanka
Trinidad and Tobago
United Kingdom (24)

English is the primary language in just three or four of these countries, so there are quite a few ESL (English as a second language) or expat Anglo ebook buyers living overseas. Aside from the strange satisfaction I get out of reaching people in so many countries so quickly, thanks to the Internet, there's potentially a grain of publishing knowledge in the data.

Why should Australia, with about a third of the population of the UK, account for two thirds as many sales as the UK? For some reason, Australians are about twice as likely to buy ebooks, or at least my ebooks, than UK residents. I can think of two possible reasons. First, if Australians live further from bookstores than people in the UK, there may be a natural tendency to buy ebooks online. Obviously the population density in Australia is much lower than the UK, but I don't know how it's distributed. If most Australians live in apartment blocks in large cities, it wouldn't be the case. Second, my books aren't easy to get in Australia without paying a lot for shipping and waiting a long time. The books are available in the UK through Amazon UK and several UK distributors.

Since I'm selling without DRM, I don't have to worry about international DRM issues. When Amazon first started selling ebooks supplied by Lightning Source back way back when, I would have sworn that they initially sold them internationally, then eventually cut back to US only. It may have had to to with customer support, local laws, or issues that generation of DRM software had with international platforms. Since my paper trail on those sales stopped at the distributor, I never knew where they were selling unless somebody dropped me a note.

I've been getting more correspondence and comments on the ebook selling subject lately, and I continue to be surprised by the dichotomy in the ebook publishing business. I don't doubt that new publishers following the various formulaic approaches to getting rich selling ebooks see it as being just as ethical than opening a new restaurant or clothing store. They do their market research and purchase advertising judiciously, then if the stars line up, they make a good profit. In a sense, putting the book last isn't that different from what the large trade publishers do, but there's something about selling people copy-written ebooks full of recycled Wikipedia content and Top Ten lists that bothers me as a business model. The best of those publishers are basically shooting for a finished ebook that doesn't leave the buyer feeling ripped-off. Aside from skirting the boundaries of ethical business practice, these publishers will never see any organic sales growth through word-of-mouth or free publicity. They'll always be locked into purchasing advertising from websites that have real content, and trying to make the dollars work out.

I do worry that shovelware ebooks give the whole ebook publishing business a bad name, and probably make international buyers extra wary of purchasing ebooks from a company they don't recognize. Maybe the fact that there are printed versions of my books for sale in bookstores gives some sophisticated overseas buyers the confidence to pay for the ebook version. It's the sort of thing I'd probably due a survey on if I were a corporation, but I hate getting "exit surveyed" after purchasing an item online myself, so I'm not going to force it on my own customers.

No comments: