Amazon imprints growing strongly as indies’ ebook market share falls back

Indie publishers’ share of the ebook market has been pegged back as Amazon’s own publishing imprints have gained 4% while small and big traditional publishers have taken an extra 2% between them.

The latest quarterly report from Author Earnings shows that indies are now (October 2016) taking around 36% of the ebook market by unit sales compared with 44% in May this year. However, if you add in the Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher results, which actually rose from around 6% to 7%, then you have an overall total of about 43% for indies over the quarter.

Although the Big 5 saw a slight improvement, they were still under 25%, but Amazon Publishing’s imprints rose strongly from 10% to 14%.

I have reported several times of the growth in sales performance by Amazon Publishing titles and in June I wrote that Amazon imprints had taken 7 out of the top 10 places in the Kindle best-selling list.

The imprints have proved to be attractive to many authors, both previously self-published or traditionally published, who have signed up to deals offering 50% ebook royalties (twice the rate offered by trad publishers) and the backing of Amazon’s promotion power.

When it comes to looking at author earnings rather than unit sales, small and medium publishers have seen gains, moving above a 20% share for the first time, almost level with the Big 5’s share of earnings.

The new breed of small/medium firms have undoubtedly strengthened sales in this area as publishers such as Bookouture have seen some spectacular gains, revealing recently that it had already sold over 4 million ebooks in the year to date, including the million-selling The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza. Bookouture is open to submissions from authors and offers 45% ebook royalties.

But the figures from Author Earnings show indie author earnings have fallen from almost 50% in May this year to below 40% in October. Author Earnings says this shift doesn’t appear to be due to pricing changes, consumer reading preferences or purchasing behavior and there could be several causes, including a change in the relative discoverability of ebooks by different categories of publisher.

Traditional publishers have been following promotional practices pioneered by indies, notably by using Bookbub where trad publishers have now completed an effective takeover of promo places, edging out indies.

Author Earnings also considers changes by Amazon to merchandising algorithms could have had an effect.

However, a large part of the swing could be due to Amazon’s aggressive discounting of print books this year.

As I reported in an article this week, print book sales have been particularly strong on Amazon this year and August saw massive growth as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released.

Buyers of Harry Potter titles seem particularly inclined to buy print books rather than ebooks and the latest book (the script of a play) sold two million copies in two days on its US release and 700,000 in the UK in the first days of publication.

The book has gone on to sell many more copies, so we could well be seeing a Harry Potter effect in Author Earnings’ latest figures.

It’s interesting to consider that the ebook of the Harry Potter title is Pottermore, a company set up by JK Rowling, and which is probably categorized as a small/medium publisher.

Author Earnings has good news for indies when it points out that high prices by trad publishers are hitting discoverability of their more recent authors. It says for every reader discovering a new Big 5 author, there are dozens of readers finding new indie authors and Amazon-imprint authors they enjoy.

It adds that high ebook prices make newer authors invisible to the vast majority of avid readers and $10-$15 ebook prices are the kiss of death for most new Big 5 debuts.

Author Earnings makes a very interesting finding about the supposed resurgence of print books through bricks and mortar bookstores.

It refers to the claimed $50 million a year total increase in print sales reported by ABA-tracked independent bookstores despite the fact that print book sales at Barnes & Noble fell by at least $300 million a year.

Nielsen Bookscan figures nevertheless still report that US print book sales are up 5% overall but Author Earnings says over 50% of the total sales reported in Bookscan’s Retail & Club category are online print sales and US bookstore sales now make up the minority.

It believes fast-growing Amazon online print sales have more than offset the collapsing sales at physical bookstores, resulting in a 5% overall net sales gain in print books in the US. This gain has been widely reported in mainstream media as being a return to bricks and mortar when, in fact, it’s largely due to online sales through Amazon.

As ever, the latest Author Earnings’ survey is a treasure trove of data and information and there is much more to read on their website.


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