Do Ebook Sales Hurt Paper Book Sales or is it all Instant Gratification?

The main problem with writing about specific ebook vs books sales issues as a self publisher is that my access to in-depth data is limited to my own titles. In this instance, I only have year over year comparisons available for two titles, taking the August 1st to October 27th time frame. Further complicating the comparison is the worldwide economic downturn that I'm estimating has shaved at least 25% off my sales in October.

Even for ebooks as low as $9.95 with the customer benefit of instant gratification, people are holding onto their credit cards a lot tighter than just a month ago. Since a high proportion of my sales are generated directly through my website, whether ebooks, direct sales or Amazon Associates sales, I get a sort of instant feedback on book market conditions that publishers who rely heavily on bookstores may not see, unless they are getting real-time sell through data. My website traffic levels are pretty much where I'd expect, visitors just aren't becoming buyers at the usual rate.

The two titles I have year over year data for are my POD publishing book and my computer business title. For shorthand, I'll refer to them as POD and CB. In the last 90 days, I sold 35 ebook versions of POD (15 outside of the US) and 31 paper copies through Amazon Associates. During the same period last year when there was no ebook version for sale, I sold 53 copies through Amazon Associates. In the same time period, I sold 62 ebook versions of CB (13 outside the US) and 23 paper copies through Amazon Associates, while in the previous year I sold 52 copies through Amazon Associates.

So the quick math would imply that I lost 51 paper book sales, but gained 97 ebook sales, where the ebook sales are a little more profitable. If we eliminate the overseas sales for these two titles since those buyers wouldn't be a good match for the US Amazon Associates referrals (28 copies), I'm still generating more sales through offering ebook versions. While the overall numbers are small, the percentage differences are very large.

The caveats even on this limited data set are many, including the fact that the paper version of POD was updated this year while the paper version of CB was not, making CB with its 2002 copyright date a harder sale on Amazon with every passing year. But the bigger caveat which stands repeating is that October sales have been depressed by the global economy. Even Saudi Arabia (where I got a second sale this morning) has seen their stock market fall 50%.

Another consideration is whether steering some sales away from Amazon is hurting the visibility of my titles there. It doesn't matter in the case of CB which is the #1 title in a tiny and ever-shrinking market, but in the case of POD it's possible that I'm losing a little traction. It's very hard to say because the top book in that segment, Aaron Shepard's "Aiming at Amazon" has been unavailable for several months while he revises the text. But as long as the visibility damage is limited, it's more than offset in my mind by the diversification offered by ebooks. And as testified by a US based customer of POD in an e-mail this weekend, he bought the ebook for instant gratification. Even Amazon Prime shipping can't compete with ebooks.

To put a country with a concept, I'm going to conclude by pasting in the list of countries where people have purchased at least one e-book, which is now 40 strong. The numbers in the parenthesis () are the totals for those countries:

Australia (21)
Austria (2)
Belgium (4)
Brazil (2)
Canada (20)
Costa Rica
Denmark (2)
France (2)
Great Britain (48)
Ireland (9)
Italy (5)
Mexico (2)
Malaysia (2)
Netherlands (4)
New Zealand (2)
Papua New Guinea
Saudi Arabia (2)
Spain (3)
Sri Lanka
Thailand (2)
Trinidad and Tobago


Anonymous said...

Morris, a while ago some people were concerned about releasing 2nd editions on amazon due to losing the reviews and rank of the first edition as it is replaced with the second. I see on your POD title your "page" has retained all of these old assets while the new publication date showing the update is also displayed. How'd you do that?



Morris Rosenthal said...


I finally give you an opportunity to be mean about ebooks and you ask an Amazon edition question!

What I did with the POD book I believe will work for any publisher. I didn't issue a new edition with a new ISBN, I just uploaded a new interior to Lightning Source, waited about a month to ensure that Amazon worked through an stray stock (they weren't actually stocking that title, but I counted the Ingram stock down to zero twice) and then informed Amazon through their publisher correction for that it was an updated edition. I used the order page on my website as the confirming authority source. I'd say it's the way to go for books where you aren't worried about non-Amazon sales.


Morris Rosenthal said...


I apologize I forgot to include my Kindle numbers for POD in the above analysis. I absolutely forgot that I published the title on Kindle, took me a while to figure out where to go to check, not to mention remembering my password:-)

Turns out POD has sold 12 copies year-to-date on Kindle, though a some of some of those sales were earlier in the summer, before our inspection period. Unlike Associates, the Kindle reports are only available as monthly spreadsheet files, so I could work the exact dates.