What the heck is going on with Amazon ebook sales?
There are 4,760,476 ebooks on Amazon right now.
Well, not right now as I’m writing this a few days before you will read it. So right now there are more than that. How many? I waited half an hour and refreshed my screen and there are now 4,763,122 ebooks available.
Half an hour added 2,646 books.
So yeah, right now there are way more ebooks on Amazon than I wrote above. We are quickly approaching the 5 million mark.
What does 5 million ebooks mean?
As a reader, it means a smorgasbord of books unlike any seen in history. If you can dream of wanting to read it, with a few carefully worded search queries you can probably find a book to match any crazy idea imaginable. I got 780 results for “space dragons,” but only 72 for “zombie romance with dragons.” I’m almost disappointed. Still, 72 people wrote something that related to zombie romance and dragons. And there is far crazier stuff out there.
I’ve often said that I wish I could be a teenager in this smart phone era if only for the accessibility of books! My choices were limited to a narrow Walden’s Bookstore at the local (45 minute drive) mall. And their selection… I guess you could call it a selection. At least I didn’t have to make the drive too often as the changeover rate ran about at the pace of a frozen stream.
But today with nearly five million ebooks on amazon with 88,620 of those showing up as being free using the search term “free books” and that is not even counting kindle deals or kindle unlimited borrowing… holy wow, I’d never have time to do my homework with that many books around!
As an author though, things are getting tough.
Don’t get me wrong. They aren’t nearly as tough as it is to find an agent to entice a publisher. But we’ve moved beyond the wild west of ebook publishing and deep into the gold rush era. There are so many authors out there that it is getting hard to stake a claim and the spots are getting awfully small. Just not much elbow room anymore.
What I mean is back when I published my first ebook in 2012, there were a lot less ebooks out there. How many? I couldn’t find exact figures, but it was still pretty much the tail end of the wild west days where you could toss up something with a horrid cover, no editing, and still find someone who loved you.
A bit of history
To give you perspective, it was Stephen King who paved the way for the ebook revolution back in 2000 when he released his novella Riding the Bullet exclusively online. Chaos ensued! So did epublishing.
The first truly digital ebooks (not on CD) were sold in 2001 for Palm Readers. There were 5,000 books. In 2001.
Amazon didn’t release its first kindle until 2007, which is the same year the ePub format came out (they aren’t even 10 years old!). For a fascinating overview of how fast the ebook market is growing, and how far back its roots go, check out this wikipedia article on ebooks.
In 2012, the year I first published, US ebook markets collected over $3 billion in revenue. There is gold in them there hills.
But is there? Really?
Modern ebook Publishing
I’m not going to say that there isn’t enough money to make a living as a full-time author. There is. People are doing it. Heck, it is possible to at least make extra money as an ebook author, enough to put a bounce in your step and a ton of sunshine in your heart.
What I’m talking about is something else. You see in 2015 AAP (Association of American Publishers) put out that ebook sales earnings were declining.
“After peaking in 2013 at $3.24 billion, eBook revenue declined to $3.20 billion in 2014 and again in 2015 by 11.3% to $2.84 billion. Unit sales also declined by 9.7%, with eBooks now making up 17.3% of the trade book market.” – Books Business Magazine
Of course that is mostly the traditional publishers talking about their books. But even if you take all ebook sales a whole, the growth in revenue is about 1% according to “tech analyst Ben Thompson [who] says in a post on this topic at Stratechery that the overall size of the ebook market appears to be holding more or less steady, growing at perhaps 1% or so per year.” As reported by Mathew Ingram over at Fortune Magazine.
So we have multitudes upon multitudes of new ebooks published annually, the existing ebook pool growing as, unlike traditional bookstores, an ebook never goes out of print or gets pulled off the shelf, and a flat to slight growth in ebook revenue. Does this sound like a gold rush to you? I want to send book pirates to career counseling so they find a more lucrative item to steal.
Things have been changing with ebook sales for awhile
Back in 2012, a friend Bruce Blake posted the results of his free promo with 8,248 downloads in Amazon US. That isn’t too astounding when you consider that a BookBub feature will net you at least that. But that was by posting it to FREE sites.
Back in 2012, you could have a book run in its course in the KDP Select free days, do no advertising, and still get around 500 downloads. How do I know? I did it. And then I met Bruce and wised up so the next time I ran a promo I actually told people about it. How did I do? 2,400 downloads. With no paid advertising. The time after that I topped 9,000.
Fast forward to 2016.
Four short years and now if I pay $50 to a solid book marketer like BookSends and they distribute news of my sale, I get around 200 downloads. Freebooksy is slightly more expensive but usually lands me at least 1500 downloads for the $70 or so I spend.
Let me recap:
2012 for $0 I could manage at least 8,000 downloads with just a bit of time sending out the announcement to free book sites.
2016 for $75 I can get around 1500 downloads.
You see where this is going?
There are so many more books out there! I don’t care how good Amazon’s search algorithm is (and it is awesome), it can only fit so many book recommendations on its screen or in an email. Even buying and ad, I’m being listed with lots and lots of other books. Where your book is placed on that list can be pivotal to how many downloads you get ON A FREE BOOK.
And lots of people are giving books away for free to get noticed. There is an entire industry spring up around the idea of giving away books. It is what you do, after all, to attract new readers. Why should they have to pay to discover a new author when it is so easy to find a free book to see if they think you are worth the investment. I get it. I really do. As a reader as I’ve tossed a lot of free books instead of finishing them. But it is even getting difficult to give away free books.
The volume of books available and downloaded is increasing. The number of ebooks sold outpaces print. But remember the revenue is nearly flat. Books are going for cheap, baby!
That is the reality of recent book market, but something new has emerged in the last few months. I’d found a pretty steady niche of marketing once a month, giving away a few thousand books, and getting enough follow up sales to pay off the marketing, book editing, covers, and still had a little in my pocket to play with new markets.
In June 2016 that changed.
Sales were cut in half. Free downloads too. A few friends reported the same. A summer reading slump? How odd! Now I’ve seen a plethora of other author blogs mentioning the same thing. Sales are down and it all started about the same time in early summer.
So what the heck is going on?
Did Amazon change their algorithm? Maybe. But that such a change would affect so many other authors? I’m leaning toward the fact we are not new. I released a book in March of this year, and recently a few bundles, but everything has been tied to the same series. If you haven’t read the first book, you aren’t going to want to pick up #4. So I really haven’t creating anything fresh and all the success stories (and there are success stories!) I’ve seen are with new series published quickly (as in book releases a few months apart at the most).
I’m actually feeling a little dated.
I prefer to say seasoned. 😉 But the market right now is not the wild west and I think we just moved beyond the gold mining stage to something new, an era where the author who can launch with good covers, a tightly marketed brand, and a series rather quickly can float to the surface. How long they will stay, I don’t know.
You can’t rest on your laurels in this ebook town. No one cares what you did yesterday, not with 2,646 books published in half an hour. It is about what you are building this minute. I think the book market just got a little tougher and a little more refined. The tried and true tactics of finding a niche for your book, choosing stellar keywords, and running promotions isn’t enough. At least not to get your book to stay high in the charts and make over a thousand a month. Which is too bad because with only 72 other books to compete with zombie romance with dragons was sounding like an awfully good potential niche!
And if you are a newbie and don’t know the nuances of this much more sophisticated ebook market, you’ll either be buried in oblivion before you get going or might get scooped up by less than altruistic vanity press or small publisher. Watch out for the sharks!
To sum up
Ebooks created an author’s dream world where you don’t need to be vetted by a publisher to create a book and reach fans. But it is also a monster where nothing dies. Ever. The backlog of available books will continue to accumulate. Visibility in that epic slush pile is the challenge.
If ebooks were a healthy market, the revenue would be growing. Maybe not as fast as the number of ebooks available, but it would be growing much more than 1%. This fact does not thrill me. Some key cog in our lovely machine isn’t spinning quite right.
Are there answers or hope? Possibly. I’m still mulling this over in my head, so I’ll get back to you with that!
What about you? Do you see a change in book marketing? How do you find the next book you want to read?
And don’t forget
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