Massive sales shift seen in ebook market from trad publishers to indies

Indie authors and publishers have seen an upsurge in their Kindle ebook market share and royalties at the expense of the big traditional publishers.

A new survey shows a remarkable turn-round in ebook royalties, with self-published indies and titles published by Amazon’s imprints taking almost 60% while trad authors are on just 40% of all Kindle ebook royalties paid — a complete reversal of 18 months ago when trad authors were taking nearly 60% of ebook royalties.

In the last 18 months to September this year, trad US publishers, including the Big 5, have seen their share of all Kindle books sold slide from 45% to 32%, their share of Kindle publisher gross revenue fall from 64% to 50%, and their share of Kindle author net $ earnings plummet from 48% to 32%.

The latest independent AuthorEarnings’ survey says the Association of American Publishers has been reporting a progressive decline in both ebook sales and overall revenue for the AAP’s member firms while Amazon’s overall ebook sales have continued to grow in both unit and dollar terms.

The shift in the book business has been driven by readers moving away from trad publishers’ ebooks toward indie-published and Amazon-imprint-published ebooks which now account for almost 60% of all Kindle ebooks bought in the US, and 40% of all consumer dollars spent on ebooks.

The survey points out that the AAP’s surveys and other market analysis do not take account of the massive indie market and the line has been peddled that the US ebook market is shrinking while the reality is that vast numbers of readers are abandoning the trad market and turning to ‘the shadow market’ of indie ebooks.

Hugh Howey’s AuthorEarnings’ operation did some exhaustive research to make ‘a true apples-to-apples comparison with the AAP’s numbers’, charting the AAP’s true share of the US Kindle ebook market over the last 18 months.

It found that Kindle ebook sales in 2014 by the AAP’s 1,200 reporting publishers made up less than 45% of all Kindle books bought in the US and trad-published ebooks as a whole only made up 55% of all Kindle ebooks bought in the US in 2014.

The remaining 45% of ebooks bought in 2014 were self-published by indie authors or published by Amazon Publishing imprints.

On ebook unit sales, the AAP’s share of all Kindle ebooks sold dropped progressively from 45% in February 2014 to under 32% in September 2015.

Amazon’s own publishing imprints have nearly doubled their market share over the last year and a half, from 7% of all Amazon ebook purchases in February 2014 to 13% now.

Indie self-published ebooks without ISBNs have grown from 30% of all Kindle ebooks bought in January 2015 to 37% of all Kindle ebooks in September. If indie ebooks that do have ISBNs are included, then indie self-published books, which made up 36% of all Kindle ebooks bought in February 2014, now make up 42% of all Kindle ebooks being purchased on Amazon now.

AuthorEarnings says, as of September 2015:

  • Non-traditionally-published ebooks from indie self-publishers and Amazon publishing imprints make up 58% of all Kindle ebooks bought in the US.
  • Traditionally-published ebooks make up 42% of Kindle ebooks bought in the US.

The shift in unit sales is reflected in the moves in publisher gross $ revenue, with indie self-publishers taking 24% of the gross $ publisher revenue of the Amazon ebook store while Amazon imprints and their authors take 13% and trad publishers accounting for no more than 50% of publisher ebook dollar revenue.

One of the major reasons seen for the seismic shift from trad to indie is the return to agency pricing by the Big 5, which has brought sharp rises in ebook prices from the trad publishers.

Kindle Unlimited is also seen as a big factor in the market changes. The survey reveals that 34% of indie author earnings from the Amazon store — over a third of indie Kindle revenue — now takes the form of KU payments for pages read.

AuthorEarnings believes the massive changes in the ebook market are starting to filter into print books as well as it points out that in August a self-published indie print children’s book, The Rabbit That Wants To Go To Sleep, was one of the top five print best-sellers. The book has since been snapped up by Penguin Random House.

All figures and graphs courtesy of AuthorEarnings. You can read the full report together with many more graphs at AuthorEarnings.

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