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:
Great Britain (48)
New Zealand (2)
Papua New Guinea
Saudi Arabia (2)
Trinidad and Tobago