October 2015 – Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Google: a look at the rest of the ebook market

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  • Amazon makes up a higher percentage of the total US ebook market than the oft-cited 65% figure: when indie books without ISBNs are included in the statistics, Amazon accounts for 74% of all US ebook purchases and 71% of all US consumer dollars spent on ebooks.
  • Outside of Amazon.com, 4 other major online retailers comprise nearly the entirety of the remaing 26% of the US ebook market: the Apple iBookstore, the Barnes & Noble Nook store, the Kobo US bookstore, and GooglePlay Books.
  • At those 4 other stores, self-published indie ebooks make up 22% of all ebooks purchases and take in 32% of all author income generated by ebook sales.
  • Between 14% and 25% of all ebooks sold at Apple, Nook, and Kobo store lack Bowker-issued International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs).
  • In total, more than 33% of all ebooks sold in the US each year have no ISBN.
  • Across the entire US ebook market, ebooks without ISBNs now command a greater share of consumer ebook purchases, reading time, and author earnings than all of the AAP’s 1,200 publishers put together, including the Big Five.
  • The true US ebook market, which includes non-ISBN sales, is at least 50% larger than ISBN-limited market statistics from Nielsen and Bowker are estimating.

According to most industry accounts, 65% of all US ebook sales happen through Amazon’s Kindle store. Or, more accurately, 65% of traditionally-published ebook sales do — because as we’ve seen, the media reporting on the industry almost always confuses the sales of only 1,200 traditional AAP publishers with those of the entire US ebook market. And as we’ve also seen, those 1,200 AAP publishers now represent less than half of the broader US ebook market — a market which, despite all the misleading media coverage of the AAP’s collapsing ebook sales, is still growing while the AAP’s minority share of it falls.

Over the past 7 quarters, we’ve charted the rise of non-traditionally published ebooks on Amazon. We’ve watched the share of the US consumer ebook market held by independent authors and Amazon-imprint authors grow quarter after quarter, while the share of the market held by traditionally published ebooks shrank. Today, indie authors and Amazon-imprint authors sell more ebooks daily than all traditional publishers put together, a remarkable fact that most industry observers — ourselves included — still find hard to believe. And it’s also a reality that the publishing industry statistics from Nielsen, Bowker, and the like — which all rely on counting ISBNs — are completely blind to… for the simple reason that 37% of all ebooks sold on Amazon.com each day do not use ISBNs.

Still, Amazon is not the entirety of the US ebook market.

We know that 35% of traditionally published ebook sales occur outside Amazon: at competing retailers like the Apple iBooks store, the Barnes & Noble Nook store, the Kobo Book store, and Google Play.

But what about indie ebook sales?

Some traditional industry spokespersons have speculated that more than 85% of indie ebook sales are wholly dependent upon Amazon. They presume that indies sell very poorly outside the Kindle store and make up an insignificant percentage of ebook sales elsewhere.

Among indie authors themselves, there is little consensus. Anecdotes about sales at other retailers run the gamut. Some indies are now going all-in with Kindle Unlimited, choosing to make their books Amazon-exclusive because the sales they saw at other ebook stores were so anemic in comparison. Many of these authors report seeing a significant increase in their earnings under KU, not only in the form of KU payments for page reads, but also in additional direct sales of their books as a result of the side benefit of enhanced best-seller-list visibility which the lift from KU borrows gives them. These authors say the combination of the two more than offsets whatever lost sales they have given up in other stores. At the same time, other indie authors are doing the exact opposite, by opting out of Kindle Unlimited exclusivity to “go wide.” They report doing very well as a result, with some high-earning indies making more revenue on non-Amazon channels than on Amazon itself. Many authors who have gone wide report seeing the relative share of their earnings coming from non-Amazon channels increase month after month.

To go exclusive or to go wide? For indies, it’s not an either-or thing. Any indie author can choose to make some of their books into Kindle Unlimited exclusives while leaving other books in wide distribution, selling them across all other retailers. And the decision whether to put a particular book into KU or go wide with it can be revisited every three months, separately, for each book an indie author has published. Despite that flexibility — or perhaps even because of it — it’s still a decision that many authors agonize over. When it comes to indie ebook sales outside Amazon, however, there is little hard data available to inform our choices.

Is the robust market for indie ebooks, as some claim, largely an Amazon-only phenomenon?

Or does a healthy market for independent authors also exist at other US retailers, too?

We decided to find out.

Apple iBooks, B&N Nook, Kobo, and Google: a look at the rest of the ebook market

In the US, more than 95% of all consumer ebook purchases — and probably closer to 99% of them — go through just five major ebook retailers. Among those five, Amazon is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla. Amazon accounts for almost two thirds of the traditionally-published total… and significantly more of the true overall ebook total, making up 74% of US ebook unit sales and 71% of US gross consumer dollars spent on ebooks (once you include all no-ISBN indie sales and those of Amazon’s publishing imprints.) 

Next up in size after Amazon is Apple’s iBooks store, accounting for roughly 10-12% of US ebook sales — or a third of what’s left. After iBooks comes Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, which despite its steepening downward slide over the past two years, still remains the #3 ebook retailer with about 7-8% of all US ebook sales. Fourth up is Kobo, with about half of Nook’s sales — or maybe 3-4% of the total US market. And finally Google, with around a third of Kobo’s sales, making up 1-2% of today’s ebook market — a surprisingly meager showing for the internet giant.

Thus we have the big picture:

Overall Market Share of US Ebook Unit Sales Held by Each Retailer

unit-sales-by-retailer

Overall Market Share of US Gross Consumer $ Ebook Purchases Held by Each Retailer

gross-dollar-sales-by-retailer

But how can we know the relative size of each retailer’s ebook sales, even to such an approximate degree?

The answer is simple: precisely the same way we learned to predict daily Amazon sales from relative ebook rankings. If methodology and math make your eyes cross, don’t worry — you’re not alone; feel free to skip ahead to our analysis of the Apple iBookstore. But if you geek out on this stuff the way we do, here’s how we put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Indie authors routinely share detailed sales data with each other. This includes data on sales in other stores, as well as sales on Amazon. The number of daily sales required to reach an overall Top 100 sales rank, a Top 10 rank, or even a Top 5 rank in each of these stores is fairly common knowledge among high-selling indies whose books frequently occupy those ranks. For instance, while it takes at least 1,000 Amazon sales in a day to reach an overall Top 100 ranking from a standing start, you need less than 150 sales to achieve the same Top-100 rank in the Apple iBooks store. And nowadays, 100 sales will easily put you in the Top 100 on Nook, while 50 will do it on Kobo. Similar ratios hold all the way up to the Top 5 in each store: nearly 5,000 sales are needed in a day to reach the Top 5 on Amazon, whereas you can reach the iBooks Top 5 with maybe 650 sales, and 500 sales will easily get you there on Nook. It’s possible to hit the Top 5 on Kobo with 250 sales in a day, and it takes far less that that on Google.

In any online store that sells millions of different book titles, the distribution of those sales — from the very highest sellers on down through the long tail of lower-selling and non-selling books — will have the exact same shape: a very well known and predictable mathematical distribution. Thus, the ratio between the number of sales needed to achieve a given sales rank at Amazon versus achieve the same rank in the iBookstore, or to hit that rank at Kobo versus at the Nook store, gives us the ratio between the total daily sales volumes in each of those stores.

Armed with that knowledge, lets now visit each major US retailer in turn, and discover how ebook sales within each store break down between different types of publishers. Along the way, we will find that each store also has something else unique and interesting to show us.

 

The Apple iBookstore (~11% of all US ebook sales)

 

Like the Amazon store, Apple has many category bestseller lists and sub-lists from which our AuthorEarnings software spider was able to pull thousands of books and their sales-ranking data. Unlike the Amazon store, however, only the Top 200 books reveal their absolute ranking among all other books in the iBookstore. From the other lists, we were able to obtain a rich matrix of relative ranking data for that genre or subgenre, but no absolute rankings. This required a slight change in our methodology. Fortunately, many of those category best-seller lists included several books that were also in the overall Top 200. This gave us a mathematical “master key” for each category list, from which we could calculate a rank scaling factor to apply to the rest of the books on that list. Thus we could project with reasonable accuracy the absolute sales rankings for 5,300 more of the iBookstore’s top-selling books (out of the 33,000 total titles that our spider had collected from Apple’s lists). Those top-selling 5,500 books comprised roughly half of all Apple ebook sales that day, giving us a very representative cross-section of sales in the iBookstore.

Breaking the data down by publishing segment, here’s what we found:

apple-titlecount-2

apple-units

11% of all best-seller listed ebooks and 20% of all ebook purchases in the Apple iBookstore are verifiably books by indie self-published authors. Another 3% are books by lower-selling single-author publishers — most likely also indies, but we didn’t check them one by one, so we left them uncategorized. The Big Five traditional publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette — make up 58% of unit sales, while small and medium publishers make up the remaining 19%.

With 20% of Apple’s unit ebook sales now going to indie authors, that puts the iBookstore about on par with what the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook stores used to look like, back in late 2012 or early 2013. But this is our very first look at the iBookstore, so it remains to be seen whether the indie share of Apple’s ebook sales is currently growing, stable, or shrinking. Only time will tell.

apple-gross-sales

apple-author-earnings

In gross consumer dollar terms, indies currently make up only 9-11% of Apple’s ebook dollar sales, while the Big Five, with their higher agency ebook prices, take in nearly 75% of the gross consumer dollars spent in the iBookstore. But our focus is as always author earnings, rather than how much traditional-publishing middlemen are taking out of the pie. So the bottom chart — which looks at only the author’s share of each book’s earnings — is a lot more interesting to us, because of what it reveals:

At least 28% of the total income received by authors from iBookstore sales is going to indie authors.

Indies are taking a big bite out of the apple, when it comes to author earnings. Perhaps some of that 28% results from Apple’s more generous across-the-board 70% revenue share, which applies at any price point rather than only for books the $2.99-$9.99 price range… or it might be that Apple offers special featuring to indies with more frequency. But whatever the reason, while that 28% pales in comparison to the 43% of all author earnings that indies command on Amazon, it’s still more than we expected to see.

With indies capturing well over a quarter of the author earnings generated by the iBookstore, it’s pretty safe to say that that a healthy market for indie books exists at Apple. But quite a few indies use third party distributors to get their books into the iBookstore, while others choose to deal with Apple direct. So let’s take a look at how indie books distributed via the different paths are performing relative to one another.

Distributing to Apple via Smashwords, via Draft2Digital, or author direct

More than half of the indie titles we found on Apple — 57% of them — were distributed via Smashwords. Draft2Digital was the distributor for 15%, while the remaining 28% were published to the iBookstore directly by indie authors themselves.

indie-titlecount-by-path

The allocation of sales and income among those indie titles, however, breaks down quite differently.

Below we see the average number of sales per day the best-seller-listed indie iBooks distributed each way are achieving. By far, the ebooks performing the best are the ones published directly by indie authors themselves — selling on average 3.5 times as many copies as those published through Draft2Digital, and 6 times as many copies as those published through Smashwords.

indie-unit-sales-by-path

And in author earnings terms, we see the same disparity:

indie-author-earnings-by-path-2

It’s important to keep in mind that correlation doesn’t equal causation. There might be many possible explanations for why books published directly by their authors are performing so much better in the iBookstore than those distributed by either Draft2Digital or Smashwords — perhaps the choice of distribution method is only tangentially linked with these authors’ relatively greater success. Maybe the very highest-selling indies are also the ones most likely to want to avoid paying a middleman distributor an extra 14% of their net author earnings (the portion shown in red above). Or it could be that the authors going direct are also the likeliest to engage directly in their relationship with the iBookstore, and to collaborate with Apple in seeking mutual promotional opportunities. From the data alone, it’s hard to determine the underlying cause of this disparity in outcomes between the different distribution paths. But it is an interesting incidental finding nonetheless.

 

The Barnes & Noble Nook Store (~7% of all US ebook sales)

 

Of the 5 major ebook retailers, the Barnes & Noble store is the easiest one to extract sales ranking data from. By paging past the visible end of B&N’s overall Top 100 bestseller list, one can find the overall sales ranking for every single ebook available from Barnes & Noble — from their #1 overall best seller down to their lowest-selling ebook, which is ranked #3,467,367. From a technological standpoint, however, the Nook store is also quite fragile and error-prone, often failing to return search results or book buy-pages. To work around the B&N store’s fragility, we had to modify our software spider so that it would retry downloading each page multiple times if the first attempt or two failed.

But the B&N store’s technical glitches aside, we were able to extract a complete set of data encompassing the 16,200 best-selling books in the Nook store — which represents roughly 45% of all Nook ebook sales that day.

Here’s how those sales break down:

bn-titlecount
bn-units

More than 27% of the Top 16,200 best selling paid titles in the Nook store were verifiably self-published by indie authors, and those titles comprise 24% — or roughly a quarter — of all Nook daily unit sales. In previous reports on the Nook store, we had examined sales of genre fiction only, rather than all ebook sales, so we can’t make a direct year-over-year comparison with our previous reports. But this 27% number appears to be relatively unchanged since 2013, back when a Barnes & Noble press release first mentioned that 25% of their daily ebook sales were of books by indie authors. It’s clear that despite the Nook stores current ongoing downward slide in both market share and total revenues, indies still continue to make up a significant share of all sales there.

bn-gross-sales
bn-author-earnings

An even bigger share of the total author income generated in the Nook store — 37% of all Nook author earnings — is going to self-published indie authors. Not quite the 43% we measured on Amazon last month, but close.

Still, to describe the Nook ebook market as a “healthy” one for indies would be to ignore the reality of Nook’s deepening downward spiral. But at least indie authors are continuing to receive a fair chunk of Nook’s shrinking revenues on its way down. So we hope Barnes & Noble can manage to turn the Nook store around before it hits bottom or otherwise craters.

 

The Kobo Book Store (~4% of all US ebook sales)

 

The Kobo store, much like the iBooks store, does not display an overall sales rank for each book on its product page — only the very Top 50 best sellers have a directly visible absolute sales rank. Luckily, just like in the iBookstore, most Top 50 books also appear in multiple category best-seller lists, so we had for each list our “master key” that let us calculate approximate absolute sales rankings for the books below them, and from those projected rankings, we compute estimated daily sales. We were able to do this for 1,850 of the 6,100 books we captured, a cross-sectional sample that includes roughly a third of Kobo’s ebook sales that day.

Here’s how sales in the Kobo store break down among publisher types:

kobo-titlecount kobo-units-2

Somewhere between 22% and 25% of all ebooks purchased in the Kobo store are indie self-published, a number roughly in line with what we found at Apple (20-23%) and at Barnes & Noble (24%). In other words…

At each of the remaining three largest ebook retailers outside of Amazon, between a fifth and a quarter of all ebooks purchased each day are self-published indie books.

The breakdown of gross consumer sales and author-earnings in the Kobo store looks like this:

kobo-gross-sales kobo-author-earnings

The data reveals that indie authors are taking home more than a third of the total author earnings generated in the Kobo store. The 34% share of Kobo author income that is going to indies lies between the 28% on Apple and the 37% on Nook. Taken together, we see that:

Nearly a third of all author earnings each day from ebook sales at the three largest ebook retailers outside of Amazon is going to indie authors.

But the Kobo store also has something else interesting to tell us.

On the product page for a Kobo book, one can find an entry for that book’s “ISBN.” In most cases, what appears there is a true Bowker-purchased, industry-trackable International Standard Book Number (a thirteen digit number beginning with 978 or 979). But for many indie books, we see instead a Kobo-assigned id (thirteen digits starting with 123). These substitute identifiers get assigned by Kobo whenever the original book lacks a true, Bowker-purchased ISBN. Therefore, we can determine with a high degree of accuracy what percentage of Kobo’s daily sales are books without ISBNs… and thus what percentage of daily ebook sales are completely invisible and uncounted in the oft-cited publishing industry statistics from Nielsen and Bowker. (Remember that those two entities are entirely reliant upon on ISBNs to accurately measure the industry.)

We’ve already seen that 37% of the ebooks purchased each day in the Amazon store lack ISBNs. On Kobo, the ratio is slightly less extreme, but still eye-opening.

18% of Kobo’s best-seller listed titles and 14% of all daily ebook purchases in the Kobo store are indie ebooks without ISBNs.

14% of all author earnings generated in the Kobo store are also from indie books without ISBNs.

What makes these percentages all the more remarkable is that they do not include the sales of indies whose books are distributed to Kobo by Smashwords or Draft2Digital, both of whom assign their own ISBNs to indies who lack them. If a significant percentage of indie authors are using either of those third-party distributors to sell on Kobo, rather than going direct, then ebooks which originally lacked ISBNs might well comprise a significantly larger percentage — most likely around 20-25% of  Kobo’s total daily ebook purchases and author earnings, if the breakdown of Smashwords/D2D vs indie-direct is somewhat similar to what we measured at Apple.

At the end of our report, we’ll come back to those no-ISBN ebooks. But for now let’s move on to the last of the five major ebook stores… GooglePlay.

 

The Google Play Book Store (~2% of all US ebook sales)

 

The GooglePlay store presented no technical challenges when it came to extracting data on ebook bestsellers. It was when we attempted to interpret that data, using the exact same techniques that we employed to analyze ebook sales in the iBookstore and Kobo bookstore, that we noticed a very significant anomaly. Superficially, Google’s Overall Top-100 best seller list and its various category-specific bestseller lists appear to be set up very similarly to Kobo’s or the iBookstore’s. But when we attempted to correlate the sales rankings of books appearing in Google’s overall Top 100 with their corresponding rankings on Google’s category best seller lists, we found complete mathematical inconsistency. Some books were actually better-ranked in Google’s overall Top-100 than they were on the category best-seller lists — a mathematical impossibility, if both purport to measure each book’s relative sales. Other books appeared in a different order in the category best-seller lists than they did in the overall Top 100 — another mathematical impossibility.

When we ignored Google’s overall Top 100 list, however, and limited ourselves to comparing rankings across all Google’s other category best seller lists, we found them to be entirely mathematically consistent with one another. If two books appeared in a certain order in the rankings on one category best-seller list, they appeared in the same order on any other list that included both. And no book held a worse rank in a sub-category than it did in the parent category above. Other than, that is, those listed in Google’s overall Top-100.

In short, we have no idea what Google’s “Top Selling in Books” list is actually supposed to be measuring. Judging by the mix of titles on it, it might very well simply be a merchandising category where publishers can purchase some of their books co-op placement, or similar. Only Google could tell us. But one thing is for certain: Google’s “Top Selling in Books” list bears very little mathematical relationship to the actual daily sales of the books that appear on it.

Thus deprived of a mathematically-accurate Top-100 “master key” that we could use to map relative category-specific rankings into equivalent absolute rankings, our ability to accurately estimate title sales in the GooglePlay store is somewhat limited. But our hands aren’t completely tied. We can still infer a great deal from the mathematically-consistent relative rankings available on hundreds of category best-seller lists, and the distribution of books by the different types of publishers on each of those lists.

But this posed its own challenges. Because not all best-seller lists are equal. The rankings on some bestseller lists such as “Romance” or “Thrillers” correspond to relatively high volumes of ebook sales. Others, particularly Google’s dozens of highly granular subcategory lists for legal reference books, medical textbooks, and other nonfiction, like “Medical > Urology” or “Law > Indigenous Peoples” or “Sports > Cricket”, likely represent far lower sales volumes each. Combining them in a way that treated them all equally would produce a highly skewed and inaccurate result. But in the absence of hard sales data, any attempt to artificially weigh one category best-seller list differently from other would introduce bias, based on our preconceived notions about which genre categories make up the bulk of the sales.

After agonizing over the best mathematical approach, in the end we kept it very simple. We lumped all of the fiction categories together and all of the non-fiction categories together, and then charted the distribution of publishing types for fiction and nonfiction separately. Our breakdown for the GooglePlay store will still be somewhat inaccurate — for instance, the publisher mix in low-selling literary fiction categories will end up having a far greater influence on our results than their true sales would warrant, while popular genre fiction categories like Science Fiction will end up counting less than they should. But when you’re looking at a retailer that only makes up 2% of the US ebook market, getting reasonably close is probably good enough.

google-combined-titlecount
google-combined-units
google-combined-gross-sales

google-combined-author-earnings

Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the mix of publisher types for fiction selling in Google’s store looks quite a lot like the overall mix of publisher types in Apple’s iBookstore. While it is true that we are comparing Google’s fiction-only distribution to a combined total from the Apple store when we say so, it’s not an unreasonable comparison to make; we’ve seen that ebooks purchased in other stores do skew quite heavily toward fiction rather than nonfiction, and if Google is anything similar, the distribution of Google’s combined sales will end up looking a lot more like the left-side pie charts for fiction than the right-side ones for nonfiction.

Probably the biggest takeaway from our look at the Google store is that, to the best of our ability to measure, the proportion of indie ebook sales and earnings in the Google store are fairly similar to those at Apple, Kobo, et al. Even if Google were to become a far larger player in ebook sales than they are today, it would not significantly change our conclusions about the proportion of indie sales that make up the broader US ebook market.

And finally, let’s revisit the eight hundred pound gorilla: Amazon.

 

The Amazon Kindle Store (~73% of all US ebook sales)

 

Not much needs to be said here, because we covered Amazon’s ebook sales quite extensively in our September 2015 report. The only two significant differences between the breakdown of sales at Amazon and that at other retailers are the presence of Amazon-publishing imprints, which are missing from the mix at the other stores, and the somewhat better performance of indies on Amazon.

amazon-titlecount amazon-units amazon-gross-sales amazon-author-earnings

 

Indie self-published authors as a group already represent a very healthy share of sales at the other 4 major ebook retailers: accounting for a quarter of their unit sales and taking home a third of all author earnings generated in those stores. But at Amazon, indies are absolutely killing it. The unit sales and author earnings of indie authors in the Amazon store are overindexing significantly, even compared to the strong indie market presence we found in other stores.

When we put it all together, we can present a complete picture that reflects not just ebook sales on Amazon, but rather the ebook sales of the entire US ebook market.

 

The Entire US eBook Market, Broken Down by Publisher Type

 overall-us-market-unit-sales
overall-us-market-gross-sales
overall-us-market-author-earnings

 

Out of the Shadows and Into the Light: the No-ISBN Digital Publishing Industry

 

Although we couldn’t measure the non-ISBN percentage of ebook sales in the Apple iBooks and Barnes&Noble Nook stores directly, it’s safe to surmise that they lie along a similar spectrum as Kobo. Somewhat less than Amazon’s 37%, but still somewhere in the 20-25% range. So industry-wide, we can safely say that:

Indie ebooks without publisher-purchased ISBNs now make up at least 33% of all retail ebook purchases and author earnings across all US ebook stores.

In past reports, we have referred to these no-ISBN ebooks as the “shadow industry,” a catchy moniker originally coined by Joe Konrath which has gone on to become popular shorthand for the officially uncounted, ISBN-lacking sector of publishing.

But the term “shadow industry” is not really an accurate descriptor. Not anymore.

Ebooks without ISBNs now command a greater share of US consumer ebook purchases, reading time, and author earnings than all of the AAP’s 1,200 publishers put together, including the Big Five.

From a reader perspective and an author perspective, no-ISBN ebooks are by far the biggest sector of digital publication.

Today, no-ISBN indie ebooks pretty much ARE the digital publishing industry.

If you’re an indie author who sees little point in buying ISBNs for your digital editions, it looks like you’re in very good company. At this point, it’s unclear how the ISBN could possibly rescue itself as a meaningful measure of anything at all in the digital publishing world. Perhaps if all ISBNs were made universally free, and retroactively offered to all indie authors for their existing books… but even then, without any tangible benefit from using an ISBN, many authors still wouldn’t bother. The ISBNs irrelevance in the modern digital publishing world is a problem for which we don’t see an answer.

But if you’ve stuck with us so far, congratulations. You have our apologies for taking the scenic route — we had a lot of ground to cover in this all-stores report. But now that we’ve examined the shape of the ebook market at all major US retailers, we’ve come full circle back to our original question.

 

To Go Wide Or Not To Go Wide: That is the Question

 

Should you “go wide” and ensure that your books are available for sale across all US retailers, or should you focus your business on Amazon.com and take advantage of the enhanced earnings opportunities that come with Kindle Unlimited?

For indie authors, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer.

In our look at the other US ebook retailers, we found a significant share of indie sales in every single major store outside of Amazon. The myth that indie sales are virtually non-existent everywhere else is just that: a myth. But at the same time, 84% of all paid indie downloads happen on Amazon and 80% of all indie author earnings are generated on Amazon. That is today’s reality.

The great news is that indie authors aren’t forced to choose one or the other path exclusively. It’s not either-or for us. We can have our cake and eat it too, experimenting and iterating until we discover which approach works best for each of us, individually. And individually for each of our books. When payouts change, so can our approach. That’s the beauty of controlling your own intellectual property, and in today’s fast-changing publishing landscape, retaining control of your own IP is the best form of diversification — the greatest possible career insurance for an author — that there is.

So go forth and experiment. Try going wide and try going narrow. And make sure to have fun doing it.

Because there’s never been a time when authors had so many choices and so many opportunities.

There’s never been a time like now.

 

Download the raw Apple iBooks data this report is based on (.xslx)

Download the raw Barnes & Noble Nook data this report is based on (.xslx)

Download the raw Kobo US ebook data this report is based on (.xslx)

Download the raw GooglePlay US Fiction ebook data this report is based on (.xslx)

Download the raw GooglePlay US Nonfiction ebook data this report is based on (.xslx)

Download the raw Amazon Kindle data this report is based on (.xslx)

Creative Commons License
Author Earnings is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 


64 Responses to “October 2015 – Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Google: a look at the rest of the ebook market”

  1. I noticed that while Smashwords publishes 4 times the number of Indie authors to the Ibook store than Draft2Digital but the latter authors sell twice as many books and make almost twice as much revenue. Makes me think D2D is the way to go when I go wide….

    • I recently compared the numbers of categories ebooks get in the B&N store and found that books distributed through D2D seem to get more — up to 6 categories — whereas those coming from Smashwords mostly get just one, rarely more. This is huge for discoverability. Being a Smashwords author, I questioned this with Smashwords support, and was told that’s just the way it is. The idea of unpublishing all my books from Smashwords and republishing them through D2D is somewhat daunting. Having read the above, it may be worth going direct.

      • Tony says:

        The indie authors on our staff publish direct to the big vendors (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes, Google). We use D2D for the smaller ones (24 Symbols, Page Foundry, Scribd, Tolino), and Smashwords only for anything D2D does not distribute to.
        Revenue from Smashwords is almost non-existent. Really, the one reason we’ve stayed with Smashwords was for sales on Flipkart (the big India retailer), but that never gained traction. We may just stop using Smashwords.
        The other thing we use D2D for is to push free books to B&N, since Barnes doesn’t allow Indies (unless, maybe, they are big names?) to give books away. Also, D2D interface is clean, Smashword’s is clunky (as a computer programmer and systems engineer, I would have fired whomever put that thing together!)
        As for the categories, Smashwords only allows you to select up to two categories for each book; D2D has no such constraint.

  2. Veronica says:

    Wow! Thank you for this.

  3. Instead of “shadow”, maybe take a leaf out of the Star Trek universe’s book: this is the “Mirror Industry”, playing by its own rules and wearing an evil goatee as it does so…

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Andrew,

      From a reader perspective and an author perspective, no-ISBN ebooks are the most bought, most read, and highest-earning sector of digital publication. Today, those books pretty much define the digital publishing industry.

      Like it or not, that makes them mainstream. 🙂

  4. Reader101 says:

    Hello, your data files other than Amazon are not available. 🙂

    Also could you please mention what the size of the US ebook market is?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Reader101,

      Thanks for the heads-up — I fixed the broken links. An extra space had crept into each.

      In 2014, the US ebook market consisted of roughly 514 million ebook units purchased and just under $3 billion in consumer spending, of which (because of aggressive retailer discounting) nearly 80% went to publishers and authors.

      In 2015, the numbers are — when you consider the whole market, including non-ISBN indie ebooks — significantly up overall. We won’t know until the end of the year just how far up they are, but we’re almost certainly looking at double-digit growth over 2014.

  5. Karen Myers says:

    There are other ways to get to the iStore, via other distributors (ebookpartnership.com, IngramSpark, etc.) Can you tell if those differ in any significant way from Smashwords’ and D2D’s dismal performance?

    I would hate to think the price of meaningful entry for the iStore is a Mac so that you can upload directly.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi Karen,

      I don’t think a clear cause/effect relationship can be inferred between which distribution method is used and sales achieved. It could just as easily be reflecting the fact that better-selling indies are more likely to cut out distribution middlemen when the share of author income those middlemen take starts adding up to a significant dollar total. It’s hard to say.

      • Stephen Gradijan says:

        easily be reflecting the fact that better-selling indies are more likely to cut out distribution middlemen when the share of author income those middlemen take starts adding up

        I would break that down into two groups, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

        1) Authors who expect large sales for a book will be saving a lot more money in dollar terms by uploading to various sites by themselves rather than give away 10% off the top. Authors who guess they won’t be making much on their sales for a book would be much less likely to undergo the pains of learning how to upload on each site for not much money saved in dollar terms.

        2a) Authors who expect to publish lots of titles would be more likely than otherwise to undergo the learning curve involved with uploading to each site because they only need to learn it once, and the rest of the time it will likely be a breeze, or at least much breezier. Even if you expect to sell only a small amount per title, those 10% commissions to SW or D2D add up per sale.

        2b) Authors with a large backlist are more likely to sell more per title than those without a large backlist, for two reasons. First, many authors only have one book in them and then stop writing, or get discouraged by low sales for that title and then quit their writing “career” before it hardly begins. Second, large backlists draw in new readers because the reader knows that if he likes the first book by that author, there is a very good chance he will like other titles by that author, and therefore will give that writer a chance before giving a one-title writer a chance.

        TLDR: “Amateurs” are more likely to use a third party to upload a title to various non-Amazon sites than pros and semi-pros.

        • P.D. Singer says:

          You have a point here, particularly about iBooks. Apple has some significant barriers to direct entry, beginning with the mess that is setting up an account so that it doesn’t reflect one’s real name as publisher. Doing that implies either the pro level need to already have an LLC or the tenacity to pursue a non-obvious course requiring personal attention, or the otherwise pro-level aspect of hiring someone to do it. Meeting the technical specs for the files may have eased since a memorable conversation with one of the most tech-savvy humans on the planet describing his travails in getting a file acceptable to Apple. That much fight for that little return fails the WIBBOW test for me. I consider D2D my “personal assistant” in dealing with Apple, and go direct everywhere possible.

    • You don’t have to have a Mac. You can rent space online via Macincloud. Then it just becomes a relatively small up front cost for each release.

      • Tony says:

        I’ve purchased a used mac 5 years ago. $300, a good investment if you sell enough on iTunes. I set it up so I can remote access it from my Windows machine. This allows me to copy files to the Mac through the network, and even remote control it. The Mac is shared by two of us, and we don’t really need physical access. Of course, setting up something like this requires some technical know-how.

    • John Weaver says:

      Ask some other authors in the market if they know of anyone that will upload for you. You can easily create an account for iTunes Connect and give upload permissions to someone that allows them to simply get your book on the store. I have done it for some of my wife’s author friends and it is relatively simple. After it is there you can manage it from the website for sales and such.

  6. M.L. Buchman says:

    Were you able to look at exclusivity to Amazon as a factor? I’m curious about relative market share by retailer for those books that are published to multiple distributors.

    • Data Guy says:

      Roughly two thirds of the indie books we found on Amazon’s bestseller lists were also available in Kindle Unlimited, and thus almost certainly Amazon exclusives. 14% of non-Big-Five traditionally-published best sellers were also available in Kindle Unlimited (but most of those aren’t exclusive).

      Kindle Unlimited borrowed units contribute to a book’s overall best seller ranking, which can lead to higher Amazon visibility and additional direct sales.

  7. Jay says:

    Thanks for another excellent and informative report! I have been analyzing data for my own author brand, but I was asking the exact questions that you answered with your report (what about the wider eBook industry off Amazon?). My own current mix is about 65% Amazon, 15% Apple iBooks, 10% Google Play, 5% Kobo, and 5% Nook. I have several series published with most going wide and two that are in KU. I don’t see going all in with Amazon at this time, but will continue to experiment with some new releases in KU for at least 90 days with most going wide at release. Your report shed some light on iBooks that I found especially interesting with respect to reaching a Best Seller list and I will likely experiment more with focused promotions on the iBooks store.

  8. Although I know this isn’t commenting on the numbers exactly, I found this interesting:
    “To work around the B&N store’s fragility, we had to modify our software spider so that it would retry downloading each page multiple times if the first attempt or two failed.”

    We hear a lot of anecdotes about B&N’s issues but if your spider ran into the problems a lot of folks talk about, that’s a bit less anecdotal. It’s been years and they still can’t create a stable web site? What an embarrassment,

    • John Weaver says:

      I agree. Working with NookPress is a nightmare. If you need tech support forget about it. The only way to deal is to upload the ePub and forget about the rest. I have repeatedly contacted them about our books not showing up in the UK part of their store and no one seems to ever be able to figure it out. Somehow over time it has corrected itself magically.

  9. John Weaver says:

    One thing I have noticed is that the longer you go without publishing a new book the better the sales on the “other” sites perform. As an Indie publisher we publish on all sites directly on day 1. Amazon kills it for the first month or 2 but then the others start taking a little more share. With 5 months and no new book Amazon is at 57% of the share where month 1 was 82% and month 2 was 68%. I would be curious if other authors experience the same thing or if there is a way to use the data to look at this. It may be vastly different for an author who is putting out 6 or more books a year vs, our 2 to 3 books as well. Using this data it would make more sense to concentrate on Amazon in the first 3 months and then open it up to all the rest. Of course this would not make sense for those looking to make “the lists”.

  10. Kay Franklin says:

    Another huge analysis. Thank you yet again. The more I read your reports the more geeky I am becoming. 😃

    Percentages can make things look small but when you correlate that into sales revenue even a small percentage has a huge potential in terns of actual $. Certainly worth experimenting.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Kay,

      I completely agree. A particular author’s mileage may vary quite widely. Some top-selling indies even do better at Apple than at Amazon. It’s hard to know what will work best for each of us, and each of our books, unless we experiment.

      One other phenomenon related to author experimentation that I’ve also observed in the last year or so:

      A lot of successful traditionally-published authors are starting to experiment with indie publishing on the side. But many of them are currently going about it in a perfunctory way that almost guarantees they will be disappointed with the results. The work they choose for their indie efforts is rarely among their best material, and many don’t polish it and package it to the same standards as their traditionally-published projects, nor do they go out of their way to make their self-published work more visible to fans and new readers. But I think it’s inevitable that those traditionally-published writers will learn the ropes and over time start indie publishing more professionally.

  11. Thank you for the informative report.

    Why though, do I feel like it’s just an advertisement for Kindle Unlimited?

    Perhaps people should consider more than just “can I make more today” going Kindle Unlimited. Maybe they should ask “can I make more tomorrow?” Competition is the only thing that will keep Amazon so friendly to authors and readers. Going Kindle Unlimited will reduce competition by further starving out the other companies that are only 26% of the market. Then Amazon will pay you whatever percentage they feel like and you will be stuck with it. Seems like people figure they will go somewhere else if that happens… but there will be nowhere else left to go. If some new innovative player comes into the space, Amazon will crush it using its dominance of the market. Only giants like Apple and Google can even step up and try.

    I love today’s Amazon. I just don’t want to see them take 90% of the market. That won’t be good for authors or readers.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Michael,

      A diverse market of successful ebook retailers competing for the business of both readers and authors is in everyone’s best interest, as you point out. I’ve had days where I sold over 1,000 books on Barnes & Noble and days where I sold over 250 Apple iBooks — like you, I would love to see Apple, Barnes & Noble, Rakuten (Kobo), and Google step up to the plate and aggressively expand their share of the ebook market. And all of them have the resources to give Amazon a run for their money.

      Let’s both hope they make it more of a priority.

  12. I put serious effort into going wide about 6 months ago and have seen my non-Amazon share rise from less than 10% to over 30% in that time period, despite promoting equally across all platforms (perhaps with a pro-Amazon bias even then, because some promo sites only promote Kindle titles). In fact, Kobo has done particularly well for my and is now #2 behind Amazon for me, though just barely.

    I believe this shows the danger to some indies from inferring too much about their own situation from the generalities of the market. Indies that find their niches can significantly outperform the market averages in certain areas. Best to try things and see rather than merely go with the flow.

    Also, in my experience, genre may have an effect on sales on different sites. This is anecdotal, but for example I publish in three different genres: science fiction, romance and crime mystery. My romance footprint is too small to tell anything, my science fiction seems to sell proportionally on all sites, but my mysteries are selling very well on Apple and Nook, to the point that combined they outsell Amazon by 50%.

    In other words, when adjusted for the size of the vendor and the expected proportion, my mysteries seem to be something like 5 times as popular on those two sites as on Amazon.

    I would be curious to know if anyone else has noticed genre disparity like this?

    • broken yogi says:

      What I would be most curious to know is what niches are successful on which of these sites. It makes sense that some books would do better than others on the various non-Amazon sites, but I’d really like to know the specifics. Any idea?

  13. While I figured their market share was now somewhere north of 70% now (and thanks Data Guy for looking in to this and getting us specific numbers), market share is still only one element of what courts look to for antitrust purposes. I’m just really hoping we don’t see a ton of stupid articles saying that this makes the antitrust case against Amazon a slam dunk. While it would help the case against Amazon, it’s only one prong of establishing monopoly power. You can see my full analysis of the Antitrust case against Amazon alleged in the Author’s United letter to the DOJ here: http://randyjmorris.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-authors-united-letter-from.html

    Notably, “companies with market share as high as 74% have been found to lack monopoly power. See Tops Markets, Inc. v. Quality Markets, Inc.” Here’s what the court said in Top Markets:

    “Even assuming this market share data implies that Quality possessed market power, Tops still would fail to satisfy its burden under the adverse-effect requirement.   Market power, while necessary to show adverse effect indirectly, alone is insufficient.   See K.M.B. Warehouse, 61 F.3d at 129.   A plaintiff seeking to use market power as a proxy for adverse effect must show market power, plus some other ground for believing that the challenged behavior could harm competition in the market, such as the inherent anticompetitive nature of the defendant’s behavior or the structure of the interbrand market.” Here’s a link to the full Top Markets case: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-2nd-circuit/1286084.html

    • To clarify, I’m really hoping we don’t see an Authors United letter 2.0 with all new Whale Math shipped FedEx. 😛 The first letter was annoying enough. Thanks again Data Guy for pulling the numbers… I always enjoy your posts.

  14. Pharosian says:

    Thanks for another fantastic round of data analysis! The results are fascinating, as always.

    I do think there is a problem with the headings on a couple of the charts, though. The charts having to do with daily sales $ breakdown have the following first lines:

    Daily Gross Amazon $ Sales of Apple e-Book Bestsellers
    Daily Gross Amazon $ Sales of B&N eBook Bestsellers
    Daily Gross Amazon $ Sales of Kobo eBook Bestsellers
    Daily Consumer $ Sales of GooglePlay eBook Bestsellers

    I don’t think the headings for Apple, B&N, and Kobo should have Amazon in them. . .

  15. Stephen Gradijan says:

    Data Guy,

    Do you have the ratios of sales per site per genre? Genre writers contemplating going wide might like to know this. 🙂

    I would love to know how large the percentage of titles (and $) is for Romance at Amazon vs Apple vs Kobo etc., and for mystery, and SFF, and YA, etc.

    For example, if at Amazon Romance is 40% of sales, and Mystery is 25% of sales, and SFF is 15% of sales, while at Apple Romance is 70% of sales, while at Kobo SFF is 52%, then Authors of various genres might be better able to guess how much they are leaving on the table by not going wide.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Stephen,

      Last year on Amazon, we looked at the genre breakdown, and the breakdown on publisher-type by genre.
      We’re probably overdue for another genre analysis, but I keep getting distracted by shiny new things to look into. 🙂

      With that said, there’s a column in the Amazon spreadsheet labeled Categories. If someone else wants to dig into that and share what they find, it would be great.

      In building web spiders to scrape the 4 other stores, though, I got lazy and only designed them to grab specifically what I needed for this analysis. So I didn’t record categories. 🙁

      If I had to speculate, though, I doubt the genre mix would vary significantly from store to store. But I could be totally wrong about that! Which is what make this all so much fun. 🙂

      • Stephen Gradijan says:

        Data Guy,

        I might not have even asked, but your explanation of Google’s funky bestseller list overall vs its subcategories caused me to believe that you indeed had this info. Oh well, thanks for replying anyway.

        • Data Guy says:

          Ah, I see what you mean.

          For each store, I did actually record which category bestseller list(s) I found each book on, but not the full list of genres a book was categorized under (whether it was in the Top 100 for that subcategory or not). I have that data in the database, but not in the published spreadsheets.

          So it would be possible to reconstruct the relative sales/numbers of the bestsellers in each category or genre in each store (but less accurately in Google’s, because their funky Top-100 robs us of a “master key” to use).

          If someone volunteers to do that analysis and share it, I can potentially redo the spreadsheets to include that category-bestseller-list data in another column. 🙂

  16. Phoenix says:

    “And nowadays, 100 sales will easily put you in the Top 100 on Nook, while 50 will do it on Kobo.”

    In June, in Kobo US, we had a title hit #4 that sold 18-20 copies. It was averaging about 10-11 sales per day organically and spiked to its #4 rank. Another title hit #3 after a promo ad (so no sales history) with 22 sales.

    Unfortunately, I don’t pay much attention to US ranks in Kobo, so the above are the only data points I have.

    Still, it looks like it takes far, far fewer than 50 sales to hit the Top 50, much less the Top 100 in Kobo US. I would hazard to guess velocity plays even more of a factor for ranking there than sales.

    So Kobo US may well come after — or run a close tie with — Google Play US in retailer ranks.

    • Data Guy says:

      You might well be right, Phoenix. I’ve hit #8 overall in the Kobo store with 40 or so sales, but I also know authors who stopped at #3 with over 200 sales. A lot depends on what books are ranked #1 & #2 at that time… When the movie version of a best-selling book is in the theaters, like The Martian is right now, I suspect it pushes the sales corresponding to the top rank or two somewhat higher.

  17. Michael says:

    Data Guy, in regards to Amazon stats, how do you discern between a title with no ISBN and one which has an ISBN that’s not shown? I mean apart from cross-referencing with other stores that do share ISBN info, which wouldn’t help in the case of Amazon exclusives. I’ve uploaded dozens of books with ISBNs to KDP, and Amazon never displays the ISBN on the store listings. Doing a search by ISBN brings them up, but otherwise Amazon likes to pretend my uploads have no ISBNs.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Michael,

      Great question. As you point out, most nontraditionally published books don’t display an ISBN on their Amazon product page even if they actually do have an ISBN. But you can programmatically retrieve a Kindle book’s ISBN (or confirm its nonexistence) using the Amazon Product Advertising API.

      • Michael says:

        Ah, I forgot about the API. I wrote that off ages ago when they refused to add support for retrieving a Kindle book’s current price, not just its list price. Did they ever relent and expose that info?

        • Data Guy says:

          Possibly. The API docs do show optional response groups labeled “Offers”, “OffersFull”, “OfferSummary”, and the like… But I find it far easier to have the AE web-spider scrape the current price off the book’s HTML product page. 🙂

  18. Rob Meijer says:

    Great article, but there is one place where the numbers don’t seem to add up: Smashwords vs Apple.
    I have published a few books through Smashwords and have quite a few friends who have done the same. The picture this has given me is that the majority of sales in the sales report on Smashwords tend to be ‘direct’ sales, outselling the indirect sales through Apple, Kobo and B&N combined. For me personally I have about nine times as much direct sales on Smashwords than I have indirect sales on Apple.

    Now if we look at the ‘other’ making up 2% of the total and including Smashwords direct sales, things seem to start to look a bit off. If we look at Apple’s share (11%), from that look at Apple’s indie sales (20% of 11% is) 2.2% and than look at the fact that 57% of Apple indie sales are for books that came through Smashwords, than those Smashwords->Apple sales would make up 1.25% of total or over 60% of ‘other’.

    As from my view of the percentage of Smashwords sales that come from Apple, 60% this would already seem unlikely if other was named “Smashwords direct sales”, I wonder if you could explain these apparently unlikely outcomes. Are me and my friends outliers and does Apple indeed account for well over 60% of all sales of Smashwords published authors? Or did you somehow leave Smashwords direct sales out of the equation ?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Rob,

      Smashwords direct sales make up roughly 10% of Smashwords revenue. Those sales lie within the 2% of the industry labeled Other.

      The other 90% of Smashwords revenue comes from their 3rd-party distribution to Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc., as well as 3rd-party distribution to other sub-1% US players like Scribd, Oyster, Overdrive, Baker & Taylor, and Blio… whose total sales also make up part of that 2% labeled Other.

      • Rob Meijer says:

        10% of revenues? The figures I talked about I thought were the percentage of units numbers. Is that number anywhere close to that 10%? If it is I find that quite surprising indeed. It surely does not match may sales breakdown figures for my own publications, neither the figures I heard about from other SW published indies.
        For me, more than half of my SW sales are direct sales and more than two thirds of the remaining sales are through B&N. Apple sales are just marginal when compared to direct sales (about a factor nine between them) . I know of a few SW published authors who haven’t had even a single sale through Apple. For that reason, the 1.25% of all sales seems very high compared to the 2% for ‘other’ that only includes SW direct sales and thus will contain many others as well.
        If truly only 10% of SW sales are direct sales than yes, the figures are probably right, but then I’ve personally never heard any SW published indie author so far proclaiming (s)he had either that many SW->Apple sales or that few SW direct sales. But then, me and everyone I know about is doing SF, so maybe it’s a genre specific thing.

        • Data Guy says:

          That 10% of revenue number comes from Mark Coker (CEO of Smashwords):

          “100% of our revenue comes from the sale of ebooks, and over 90% of it comes from our awesome retail distribution partners Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Baker & Taylor and others.”

          See: http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/01/forbes-magazine-names-smashwords-to.html

          Smashwords’ total sales were $20 million in 2013 (the 2014 reference in the article’s a typo). That would put their direct 2013 sales total at $2 million, or a fraction of a percent of the US ebook total.

          Neither the US industry statistics, nor AuthorEarnings, measure free units.

          And as always, any individual author’s mileage may vary.

  19. Mgon ♥ says:

    Great stuff, dudes.
    This information is invaluable!
    You’re awesome for providing this.
    Thank you for giving so much to help so many.

  20. TheSFReader says:

    Yet an other great report guys ! With just one additional question : How do you take into account international sales ? ie if sales at Kobo’s are from the US of from the UK ? the same for Amazon.com, for itunes etc. Aren’t you comparing apples to oranges at some points ?

    I suppose Amazon’s multiple international stores mean you would be under-reporting sales there since you take only one of them, while you take the worldwide sales for the competitors, right ?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Antoine,

      For Apple, at least, it appears the best seller lists are different for each country… with Kobo, the US & UK lists looked pretty similar, although other countries, the lists look different. In the end, even if we are over-reporting Kobo’s US sales a little, by including some international sales, it doesn’t change the picture that much. A couple percent, maybe. 🙂

      Currently, US ebook sales make up the majority of the global ebook market. Hopefully, that will change over time, as ebook adoption outside of the US (and the UK) rises. But for right now, in most countries, ebooks are a single-digit or barely-double-digit percentage of overall book sales.

      Breaking it down in a little more detail, and focusing on other major English-language markets, we have based on population alone:

      325 million – United States (71.5%)
      64 million – United Kingdom (14%)
      36 million – Canada (8%)
      24 million – Austrailia (5%)
      5 million – New Zealand (1.5%)

      So that’s a decent proxy for the relative size of the overall publishing industry (including print) in each of these countries. However, when it comes to ebooks and what share of the English-language market for ebooks each of these countries represents, that 72% for the US is way too low — because of the aforementioned lag in ebook adoption outside the US. Ebook adoption rates in the UK actually run a close second to the US, but their market is much smaller — between a fifth and a sixth the size of the US ebook market. And everyone else is not only much smaller than either the US or UK, but ebooks also represent a far smaller percentage of those smaller markets. Canadian book industry reports, for instance, have ebooks leveling off around 15% of their market (although we’ve all learned to treat official industry stats on ebook adoption with a grain of salt, haven’t we… 😉

      There is also Germany, which has a incremental market for English-language books, mostly UK imports. But ebook adoption in Germany also seems to be stuck in the single digit percentages overall, and thus the English-language portion would add up to a fraction of a percent of the total here.

      India’s English-speaking population is huge, but their book industry not so much — $2 billion or so, less than 20% of the US trade market. And when it comes to ebooks, far more nascent — ebooks make up less than 2% of India’s book market, which — even if all ebooks in India were English-language — would make little difference in the overall numbers.

      So for now, the US represents at least three quarters of the English-language ebook market, and possibly more. I think this will change in the next few years, though, with ebook adoption rising to near-US levels in most countries by then.

  21. TheSFReader says:

    Thanks DG 🙂

  22. Indieman says:

    Very interesting article!!! But anybody can explain the difference between Indie VS Single-Author Publisher?

    • TheSFReader says:

      Indie has been verified as Indie/self-published, while Single Author Publisher could be an editor who publishes one single author without being that author. Most probably an Indie, but HH and DG choosed to be very conservative WRT “Indie” criteria so that no one can dismiss the results as over-reporting SP’s weight in the balance.

      Likewise, Small-Medium Publishers probably contains a few Indie authors who chose to publish their work under different names as a single Publisher entity.

      As I understand, HH and DG sometimes check the category for publishers, and

  23. Reader101 says:

    Data guy, what is your estimate of the total revenue based size of the US ebook market?

    How does this compare with AAP and Neilson?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Reader101,

      In 2014, the total size of the US ebook market (in consumer $ ebook spending) was around $2.7 billion.

      How does that compare to what the AAP and Nielsen are reporting? In 2014, the AAP’s 1200 Statshot-participating publishers reported $1.519 billion in publisher and author revenue — after the retailer’s cut was taken out. And Nielsen Pubtrack reported 223 million ebook units sold in 2014 (by 30 publishers whom Nielsen claimed represented “85% of the US market” but was obviously quite wrong about). In consumer ebook spending terms, the AAP’s reported numbers would correspond to about $1.8 billion spent on AAP ebooks in 2014 (Because the avg. retailer cut was a lot smaller than 30%, due to the steep Amazon.com discounts we measured on pre-agency Big Five books). But as we know, in 2014, the AAP only represented 65% of consumer dollars spent on ebooks on Amazon, slightly more (70%-ish) elsewhere.

      In 2015, the US ebook market is trending significantly larger. We’ll have to wait to the end of the year to know just how much larger, but consider this: the AAP publishers’ ebook dollars are only down 10% or so, and that’s because the Big-Five fought to kill the retailer-subsidized discounting they were getting pre-agency. By contrast, actual consumer dollar spending on those AAP books is up (although unit sales are likely down). And consumer dollar spending on non-traditional ebooks is up significantly more… to the point where the AAP’s 2015 sales barely make up half of the 2015 consumer dollar spending on ebooks. If I had to speculate, I’d say the US ebook market (measured in consumer $ spending) cracks $3 billion this year.

  24. Data Guy says:

    NPR’s All Things Considered talks to Author Earnings:

    http://www.npr.org/2015/10/19/450030372/why-the-battle-between-e-books-and-print-may-be-over

    NPR does a little more fact-checking than we see in most mainstream stories on the publishing industry. 🙂

  25. Kathy says:

    What about us Indie authors who have ISBNs on all our books?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Kathy,

      I bought a block of ISBNs for my hardcover and paperback editions and had a bunch left over. So, like you, I put them on my ebooks, too.

      But we’re in the minority.

      Most authors don’t bother, and it has zero effect on their visibility and sales either way. Nowadays, over a third of all best-selling ebooks — and the overwhelming majority of best-selling indie ebooks — lack ISBNs.

  26. Jen Crane says:

    Far too often I read valuable material and never say thank you. But this–I can’t not thank you for this. The information is so helpful to the decision-making process of a new indie author like me. Thank you for your time.
    And for what it’s worth, my meager sales for a new adult fantasy romance (paranormal) these past two months is 71%-Amazon, 16%-iBooks, 3%-B&N, 4%-Kobo. I use D2D and am pleased so far.

  27. Is there any data that can be extrapolated to indicated the percentage of books exclusively available as ebooks (ie have no print counterparts). Additionally, it would be interesting to learn the number titles that are exclusive to each platform (e.g how many titles are only available for Kindle vs ibook, etc).

  28. Sam Bowring says:

    I agree with Jen above, that was exactly the thought process as I was reading – better thank this guy! So, thanks very much for making me have to rethink everything all over again. Argh!

  29. Mercy says:

    I need to do analysis for eBook market in the US and this article was really helpful. It was more than I was looking for
    Thanks for the depth of your research

  30. I wonder if there are any significant differences between the US ebook market and other countries like Canada. This is really great, thanks for taking the time to do this!

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