Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the numbers

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63 Responses to “Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the numbers”

  1. Chuck Litka says:

    Thanks for all the work you guys put in — it is facilitating to be able to watch how a market changes. Question — how does Amazon’s ebook sales increase of 4% compare to past years for which you have data? The other thing that struck me after a quick review was that the average price of indie published books looks to be down rather sharply — from $3.76 last year to $2.92, the lowest you’ve reported it. More $.99 books in the mix, or just a gradual settling to a mainstream $2.99 – $3.99 price range?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Chuck,

      We first rolled out our more precise big-data sales measurment methodology in early 2016, so can’t really compare absolute total-sales numbers against previous years, only relative market shares. Thus I can’t really determine whether that 4% growth in 2016 represents a speedup, a slowdown, or steady growth. But at the end of 2017, it’ll be interesting to compare against 2016, because then we’ll have another year-on-year delta to compare against.

      Not sure which report the $3.76 number you cited came from, but here’s what the breakdown of total ebook $ sales by price point looked like in 2016 for indies (and every other category of publisher, too):


      • Data Guy says:

        And in unit sales terms:

      • Chuck Litka says:

        Hi DG,
        Thanks for your response.
        The $3.76 comes from slide 36 of your 2016 Digital World presentation. I would imagine different methodology might apply to that figure too.

        The 4% sales growth is interesting because my take away from your slides on ebook market penetration is that the ebook market has gotten pretty mature. Nearly all genre and readers susceptible to ebook reading have now adopted the format. If so, future growth will be incremental. I suspect we’ll have a better picture within the next few weeks…

        • Data Guy says:

          Hi, Chuck,

          Sorry about any confusion, but the $3.76 vs $2.92 is an apples-to-oranges comparison. I should have made the distinction clearer.

          The $3.76 is the average price across all listed titles from each publisher type.
          The $2.92 is the average price customers paid when purchasing a title from each publisher type.

          The first number is a measure of publisher pricing policies, which is what that particular presentation was focused on. It weights all titles equally, regardless of how well they are selling (or if they are selling at all).
          The second number is a measure of what consumers are actually paying, which is generally of far more interest to us here at AuthorEarnings. 🙂 It weights each ebook purchase equally, rather than each title.

          i.e. $3.76 = sum(title prices)/count(#-of-titles); while $2.92 = sum(#-of-sales x title price)/sum(#-of-sales)

          Sorry about any confusion.

          To answer your question, average indie prices (the $3.76 number) have remained pretty stable for the last 2 years, while average purchase price consumers paid for indie books actually went up since last year, from roughly $2.75 in 2015 to $2.92 in 2016.


          • Chuck Litka says:

            Thanks again, DG, for setting me straight on the prices. As you may gather, I find watching this evolving market fascinating. I’m curious to see how it fits, and doesn’t fit, my econ 101 understanding of markets. And being a hobbyist in self publishing, I can do it without risking a loss of a night’s sleep over its twists and turns. Looking forward to the Feb. report. — Chuck

  2. Stephen Hunt says:

    Wow, mind blown. Thanks people for digging out the facts behind the facile nonsense I see paraded as stats by TradPub.

  3. Wow! Thank you for this. So much information, going to have to reread and digest.

  4. A.S Balance says:

    Well, first of all, thank you for the work. You guys are the heroes for Indie Community (And probably stalkers from Big Fives). Anyways, I have been refreshing this website nearly daily waiting for this article to come. It definitely needs a re-read, but the amount of work put in here is just marvellous. My debut is a YA-Fantasy, and what I get from these slides is that YA-Fantasy published by Indies are doing better than both Traditional Publishers and Amazon imprints, am I right? Thanks again. This is informative!

  5. This is fascinating and amazing. I love what you do. Thank you SO MUCH.

  6. Sela says:


    Amazing analysis. Thanks so much DG and others for all the work you do!

  7. John Brown says:

    It seems to me that when you look at total author income–(units sold x royalty rate)/number of authors–that those in the Amazon imprints do the best.

  8. John Brown says:

    BTW, thanks for doing this!!!!

  9. Excellent analysis. As an author of AA and multicultural books, I can vouch that calling that market under-served by traditional publishing is an understatement. Indie publishing has been a boon for authors and readers.

  10. Thanks for this. A little disappointed that you didn’t do slide for an analysis of fantasy.

  11. Jan O'Hara says:

    This is amazing work. I’m boggled at how much you do and give away for free. Thank you so much!

  12. Cathryn Cade says:

    Fist pump! I’m in the right arm of publishing. Indie > Romance > Mainly Digital
    I knew that, as I love the control and agility of being indie. But thanks as always for the vindication.

  13. Ron Vitale says:

    Thank you for all the work that you do in putting together these reports. It’s great to have this information to help all of us with our careers. Thank you again.

  14. DG: Fantastic and useful — I love way you make numbers understandable.

    Is it possible to do a slide for legal thrillers? Much obliged.


    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, John,

      I took a look at ebook sales in the following sub-categories:

      Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers & Suspense > Legal
      Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Legal

      About 7,400,000 total ebook units of Legal Thrillers (by the above definition) were sold in the US in 2016.

      The breakdown of those sales by publisher type was:

      43%     Indie Self-Published     (avg. sale $3.34)
      3%     Small/Medium Publisher     (avg. sale $2.92)
      29%     Amazon Imprint Published     (avg. sale $4.61)
      24%     Big Five Published     (avg. sale $8.76)
      1%     Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher     (avg. sale $3.31)

      Striking how non-Big Five traditional publishers have such a negligible sales footprint in legal thrillers, isn’t it?


  15. Data Guy,

    I’m guessing that the uptick in traditionally published ebook sales in October of 2016 is due to a few factors you touched on briefly later. October is when traditional publishing releases the latest book by the Biggest of Big Names, in time for Christmas. The long history of book publishing has shown that these Brand Names are recession-proof. We had a mini-downturn due to the election in retail in general, but some recession-proof items did very well.

    I have no proof that this is one of the major reasons for the uptick in trad pub ebook sales, but if I were a betting woman, I’d put a few dollars on the Brand Names’ releases as a big part of the reason. Can’t wait to see if you get data on this down the road.

    Thanks for all you do. I love having real data!


  16. Dear DG,

    Thank you, again, for everything you do.

    Are sub-sub-sub genre slides available?

    (Just curious why you don’t you monetize your data? I’d willingly pay a subscription fee for your amazing information.)


    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Dan,

      I don’t have slides for sub-sub-sub genres yet, although depending on which genre-specific industry events I’m invited to present at this year, I’ll likely end up generating and publishing ones focused on those genres.

      To answer your question about why we don’t monetize the data, the reason is pretty simple:

      We want *all* authors to have access to this vital career information, rather than only those who can afford to pay for it.

      Locking any part of it behind a paywall just wouldn’t feel right.


      • Dear DG,

        “We want *all* authors to have access to this vital career information, rather than only those who can afford to pay for it.”

        That’s pretty much the response I expected. 🙂
        I’m sure you realize there’s a lot of us out here who love and appreciate the work you do.

        Thanks, again.


      • DG, I hearby nominate you for sainthood. I’ll be calling the Pope later.

      • “Locking any part of it behind a paywall just wouldn’t feel right.”

        What integrity. We need more people like you on this planet.

        An immense THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for making this info available for free to all of us indie authors. This huge amount of work and analysis does not go unacknowledged. Thank you. Merci. Danke.

  17. Amy Maroney says:

    Dear DG,
    Thank you so much for this treasure trove of data. I’m excited about your findings and thrilled that I was able to take in all the data quickly through these colorful, easily digestible slides. You are doing so much to explain what’s truly happening in the publishing industry. It’s heartening to know that there is room for all of us out there. The data about underserved genres was particularly powerful. As an indie historical fiction writer, I would love to see how my subgenre is performing specifically, but the overall numbers for general fiction look encouraging. I’m going to share your findings with friends and family who still don’t understand why “going indie” is better than trying to land a traditional publishing contract. Thanks again for an incredible resource and for all your hard work!

  18. Alex says:


    What’s Amazon’s market share of all book purchases, now?


    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Alex,

      55%     (o_O)

      In 2016, 55% of all trade book purchases in the US were Amazon sales.

      When you break it down by format:

      Print books: 41% of all Bookscan-tracked print books purchased in the US were bought online through, which is 37% of all print books purchased in the US once we include the remaining 15% of traditional print sales untracked by Bookscan, plus the additional 17 million indie Createspace sales on Amazon, which are also untracked by Bookscan.

      Ebooks: 82% of all ebooks purchased in the US were Amazon Kindle books

      Audiobooks: 99%+ of all digital audiobooks purchased in the US were Amazon-distributed (because Amazon’s was also the exclusive audiobook provider for Apple iTunes.)
      [Physical-CD audiobooks, with fewer than 4 million units sold in 2016, represent a tiny and fast-shrinking fraction of all audiobook sales now (less than 10%). Oddly, those 4 million CD-audiobook sales get lumped by Bookscan into their published “print” book sales totals (along with Calendars and similar items)].


      • Alex says:

        amazing! @_@

        55% of all trade books! and 82% of all ebooks–previous numbers from 2015 or so were in the low 70% weren’t they?

        • Data Guy says:

          Hi, Alex,

          From 2015 to 2016, Amazon’s ebook sales grew, Apple’s stayed more or less steady, and Nook’s declined sharply. But mainly, being able to apply our more precise raw-sales-data-based 2016 methodology to the other stores as well let us measure their total sales more precisely, hence yielding a more accurate 2016 breakdown of “wide” sales.
          It’ll be covered in more detail in an upcoming AE report.


      • Nate says:

        This is fascinating. 99% of audiobooks/82% of ebooks?! Can I asked you the source you used for this amazon data?

        • Data Guy says:

          Hi, Nate,

          This link talks about how AE does Amazon data collection:

          We’ve now also applied the same approach to all the other significant US ebook retailers (Apple iBookstore, B&N Nook Store, Kobo US, and GooglePlay Books). The handful of other ebook distribution channels have combined sales too insignificant (i.e. <1%) to matter, at least for now, and unfortunately the general trend for the past few years has been toward ever-increasing consolidation.

          For audiobooks, the only three significant retailers of downloadable audiobooks are,, and Apple iTunes. Audible is wholly owned by Amazon and, up until very recently, at least, Audible was also the exclusive distributor to Apple iTunes.


  19. Gabriel says:

    Dear DG,

    Thank you again for that fine analysis. It’s mind blowing as usual and it really helps publishers (including foreigners) to put in perspective the structural dynamics which will shape the future of the book industry.

    Will you also release data in value for traditional publishing or should I put your non traditional dolar sales figures in perspective with AAP figures?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Gabriel,

      There are actually 2 sets of AAP figures, confusingly both called StatShot.

      1) The AAP Monthly StatShots, which represent actual sales data from reporting publishers, are pretty decent benchmarks — although they only contain dollar figures and not units. I use these for calibration against my own numbers and, for those particular 1200 publishers, they land within 5% of AuthorEarnings’ calculations.

      2) The AAP’s “StatShot Annual”, on the other hand, is a renaming of the old BISG (Book Industry Study Group) report that had been officially sidelined before the AAP picked it up. It’s a well intentioned but amateurish exercise in attempted statistical modeling that unfortunately yields… well, inflated garbage numbers, basically, which no knowledgeable traditional-publishing industry analyst takes seriously (although they do get cited sometimes by mainstream and industry media). These numbers are so wildly inconsistent with reality that they postulate an extra billion imaginary print books a year getting published by nonexistent publishers and selling through invisible retail channels that no one can identify, essentially tripling Nielsen Bookscan’s actual point-of-sale measured totals while leaving no trace of real economic activity anywhere at all.

      Unlike the AAP’s Monthly StatShots, which are real sales data and very useful, there’s nothing of value to gleaned from the StatShot Annual reports.

      But if you ignore StatShot Annual, and instead add 15%-20% to the StatShot Monthly totals, you’ll have a pretty good total dollar figure for total US traditional publishing, broken down by format (but don’t forget to subtract off the total returns, which are also a very large line item in those StatShot Monthly reports).


      • Gabriel says:

        Many thanks for your answer !

        I have a last question : when I dig into categories and try to recalculate the online print sales of indie books it seems that the result is zero and that all the print sales for indie are made through brick & mortar.

        For instance on slide called 2016 unit books sales by format for traditionally published books only on adult fiction we have :
        – 36 838 000 for online print
        – 103 383 000 for brick & mortar

        And on the same slide but including Amazon Imprints and Indie Self published, we have :
        – 36 838 000 for online print
        – 104 513 000 for brick & mortar

        So, by deduction, I calculate that for Amazon Imprints and Indie Self published sales, we have :
        – 0 for online print
        – 1 130 000 for brick & mortar
        It seems a bit counterintuitive to me as I thought that those books were sold online… Is my reasoning right or did I miss something?

        Thank you very much!

        • Data Guy says:

          Great catch, Gabriel!

          The totals in parentheses were appended to the slide afterward, and it seems I made an error in doing so–not just for Adult Fiction, but for the other 3 categories as well. Although print sales from indie and Amazon imprints are relatively small, it looks like I mistakenly added them into the brick & mortar print sales column instead of the online print sales column.

          ETA: Double-checked. And fixed ’em. Turns out the length of the chart bars were correct as drawn in each case, but the annotated number labels for online & brick&mortar print sales (in parentheses on the right side of the slide) were wrong. They’re fixed now.

          Thanks again for your eagle eye. 🙂


  20. Thank you so much for all your hard work, and for sharing it so generously with us!

  21. Tom Wilson says:

    Excellent presentation – working in Sweden, just coming to the end of an investigation into e-books in its ‘small language’ market, we’d love to see another look at the European market.

  22. Nate says:

    Do you have average Ebook pricing over time? I’ve seen one-off point in time numbers, but was wondering if you had calculated the trend over time. (e.g., 2010-2015) I’m curious how the 2012 Apple price fixing suit and 2015 Amazon/Publisher renegotiations have impacted prices.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Nate,

      Author Earnings started tracking ebook data in early 2014, so we have no ebook price data prior to that.

      Per the answer to Chuck’s question above, “average” ebook price could mean two very different measurements:
      1) The average “sticker” price assigned by publishers (or authors or retailers) across all ebook titles, treating high-sellers and non-sellers alike
      2) The average purchase price actually paid by consumers for the ebooks they buy.

      As some books sell a lot of copies and others essentially none, these two metrics can diverge from each other substantially.

      Here’s a slide that shows how #1 (average sticker price) has trended:

      As far as #2 (average purchase price) goes, when I checked for indie ebooks, the average price consumers actually paid has risen slightly over the last couple years. It might be interesting to do the same calculation for other publisher types, too… 🙂


  23. Jake Jackson says:

    Well, as always, this is a magnificent piece of work, so helpful and encouraging. You put everything in perspective, with pure data. I recently had a three book offer with a small advance but turned it down because I felt that as a motivated self-publisher/indie Publisher I could reach further into the digital market than they might (with plenty of hard work!). Your stats back me up, so thank you.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Jake,

      FWIW, I think you made a smart decision — the key indicator for me being your mention of a “small” advance. The size of your advance tells you the size of the marketing commitment a publisher will make to your books.

      If your advance is small, a publisher has no real “skin in the game”–and you cannot reasonably expect them to put more than a token marketing effort behind your book when release time comes, regardless of what verbal promises they made to woo you into signing with them. If they plan to market a title nontrivially, the advance will reflect that. If it doesn’t, they won’t. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

      In general, as in most things publishing-related… caveat auctor 🙂

      Nowadays, for a genre fiction book, if a publisher isn’t offering you at least a mid-five-figure to six-figure advance–and you can afford to pay for a good cover and solid editing as an indie–you’ll almost certainly end up selling far more copies and earning significantly more money with that title if you indie-publish it yourself, instead.


  24. Dianne Dixon says:

    You all are fantastic! I know this is a lot of work and I will share this with my followers and readers! Everytime I read your reports (love the new presentation by the way) I wonder about the perma-free tactic among Indies. Do you have any data insight into that, whether that strategy works/doesn’t work/is on the increase/decrease? I know many authors who use it but it’s not sure if they benefit from it as they think they should.

    • Good question on permafree book “sales” or downloads. I’d love to know as well. Thanks for asking.

    • Eric Beaty says:

      Ditto on the perma-free strategies.

      I would also like to know your thoughts on ebook overcrowding. All I ever hear from my local writer’s group is how saturated the market has become with perma-free books, so much so that it’s almost impossible to get noticed by anybody because people download so many free books that yours just gets lost in this new kind of digital “slush pile.”

  25. Dianne Dixon says:

    Got a question: This graph:
    You have the yellow but then break out print into a different color. What does that color signify? ARe you pointing out Indie Print or ??? I didn’t see a color key so maybe I’m not understanding why you used that color differential.

    • Dazrin says:

      The yellow items in that chart indicate “Online Sales” of each of the different formats. The Pink items are “Brick and Mortar Sales”. All ebook and audio sales are assumed to be online.

      He did this on several slides using the text color as his legend. Took me a bit to figure out too.

  26. Amanda says:

    Hello, and thank you for the AMAZING info.

    I have a question about the YA sci fi/fantasy genre. I see 85% of online sales are ebooks, but I was wondering what the total percentage would be of both online and in store sales.

    The reason I ask is, a lot of indie publishers worry about distribution. But if for the genre, most sales are ebooks, distribution shouldn’t be a concern, and should weigh in on their decision to go indie or traditional. I would recommend that authors find data like this specifically on their genre to take into consideration.

    Thanks again!

  27. Is it possible to get the average digital price for indie children’s fiction (picture book if possible)

  28. Leonhard Wagner says:

    Thanks for your very interesting report. I was wondering if it would be possible to show revenue numbers. The report focuses entirely on unit sales which doesn’t account for the fact that print is sold for a higher prize. I’m also not clear wether eBook unit sales include free eBook downloads which would change the picture. Thanks again and looking forward to your answer!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Leonhard,

      This particular presentation was units-focused, but our other reports also look at market shares in consumer $ spending terms, as well as the (for us) most important metric of all : actual author $ earnings.

      Free units are not included in these numbers; these are all paid units from which the author earned $ revenue.


  29. Nate says:

    Data guy,

    Love the work on this! Quick question on the size of the non-traditional publishing industry. When you say Amazon imprints, would that include titles that use Amazon direct publishing or is this only for titles published through their 14 imprints? Similarly with the self-published by indie authors market size, does that include self-published titles through Amazon? If so, do you have a rough idea of what percentage of all self-published titles are done through Amazon’s platform?


  30. Hi Data Guy,

    Thank you for compiling all of this data. I’m currently writing a report for my Masters, and I’m trying to find as much information as I can about the indie cookbook industry. Would it be possible at all to get the breakdown for the Cookbooks like you did for Romance and Mystery? It would be such a help (since I can’t seem to find anything with actual data except for Looneyspoons from 2012).

    Much appreciation!

  31. Sam says:

    Your estimates for millions of units sold for print books look quite low vs those of the AAP (see here –

    What exactly do you mean by traditional publishing?


  32. If non-traditional print sales were 21,860,000 (16,660,000 CS + 5,200,000 other), Amazon imprint print sales were 959,000, and all trade publishing 809,779,000 then shouldn’t trade print total 786,960,000? On the trade slide the value for print was listed as 793,119,000. Is my math incorrect?

  33. Robert Sacks says:

    Fantastic report.Truly enlightening. Is there an audio or video of the presentation?
    I would love to hear/see it for further insights.

  34. TEISAN says:

    Hi DG,
    Thanks a lot for such a fantastic report,I am a students from Nanjing University of China,I wonder if I can translate the report into Chinese for students learning Publishing Science in China.
    If it’s ok, could you send me PDF file of it, or some other file editable?

    Thanks again!

  35. Paul says:

    Thank you for all this hard work AND for making it available on-line for free! As an aspiring author, it is very encouraging, helpful and inspiring to have generous people like you who provide this information.

  36. Scott Kelly says:

    Hi DG,

    First of all, thank you for the hard work that you do, it’s truly amazing to see all of this data and the insights that you’ve compiled.

    One quick question that I would really appreciate you answering if you have time.

    1) On the slide with the title “non-traditional publishing a $1.25 billion dollar US industry” and you have a figure of $225,619,000 of print books. I’m wondering:
    a) does this just include online sales of print books or bookstores as well
    b) where do you get this source/do you think it is representative of the whole self-published printed book market? I’m conscious that this might be sensitive information, but any insight you could offer would be really interesting/helpful.

    Thank you so much!


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