Did Nielsen Report US eBook Sales Were Down in 2014, or Volume?
When I reported yesterday on Nielsen’s estimates for ebook "sales" in the US in 2014, I questioned whether the report was correct. I’m still waiting for Nielsen to get back to me on this, but based on my conversations on Twitter this morning it now appears that I was right to question the report.
Update: Never mind. The Nielsen Pubtrack figures are completely bogus.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t ask the right question.
Yesterday I picked up a story in which The Bookseller reported that Nielsen said the US ebook sales dropped by 6% in 2014 from 2013. I doubted that report because the AAP offered contradictory revenue data, but now it appears that The Bookseller may have been the source of the problem, and not Nielsen.
According to several people who attended the BEA 2015 conference session where Nielsen shared the data, the Nielsen rep did not say that sales were down. Instead, they said that volume (or sales volume) was down in 2014, and that is not the same thing.
What’s the difference?
Well, I can’t give you a simple answer, but the least complicated version is that Nielsen reported on how many ebooks (units) were sold, and not on how much was spent to buy those units. This was not clear in The Bookseller’s story, which said that ebook sales were down but really meant that ebook sales volume was down.
Volume, or sales volume, is measured in the number of units sold, while sales (or more often revenue) are measured in currency.
To give you an example, the AAP releases sales or revenue data every month, while Nielsen shared volume estimates last week at BEA 2015 (or so I’m told).
If you would like other examples, try googling the phrase "sales down volume up" and see how many financial reports you find which make this distinction.
In short, I have to call out my own error. I was wrong to use the AAP to cast doubt on Nielsen’s numbers. They did not contradict each other so much as they described different things.
Or at least that is what I think is going on. I’m going to have to wait for Nielsen to explain this better before I know for sure what really happened here.
Update: I was right.
More than anything, this served as a reminder of how one should be careful in choosing the right words. As someone who regularly flubs word choice, I can’t fault The Bookseller, although I do wish they had been more clear.
P.S. And while we’re on the topic of sales volume, Nielsen’s data is nothing to write home about. They exclude market segments which are going to see huge activity in 2015:
— Andrew Rhomberg (@arhomberg) June 2, 2015
At last report, Kindle Unlimited accounted for over 7 million ebook loans in April 2014. By the end of 2015 KU loans could make up 20% of the sales volume, and to exclude it would mean ignoring a huge chunk of the market.
image by garysan97