Kindle Unlimited is Cutting into Authors' Sales, and Other Market Scrying
I was the first to break the story last week that KU might be having a negative impact on indie authors' ebook sales, and as I have been reading the ensuing coverage I have realized that someone needs to point out the problems with relying on anecdotal data.
And as I sit here reading Porter Anderson’s piece in The Bookseller on Sunday, I can see that even Porter missed a valid counterpoint: that this type of decline has happened before (he also missed including me in his roundup of the discussion, but I am used to that by now). That leaves it up to me to question the narrative.
Last week I shared the tales of several indie authors who had seen a sharp dip in ebook sales in the months since Kindle Unlimited had launched. To make this even scarier, this included authors who both did and did not have ebooks in Kindle Unlimited.
There’s a scary trend if true, but as with any report based on anecdotal evidence there’s always the risk that your examples are the exception and not the rule. To be fair, sometimes the outliers are also the bellwethers, but given the history of the ebook market I wouldn’t be so sure in this case.
One other reason to doubt this trend, and this is a good one, is the behavior of the market last year.
It was around this time last December that I reported that some indie authors were seeing a big drop in sales during fall 2013. I cited Toby Neal (who had corroborating reports from other authors) as saying:
The DOJ price-fixing case with Apple and the Big 5 publishers was settled awhile ago, but September was when Amazon began really discounting big name books. I get several email lists of discounted books daily in my inbox, and I’ve been agog to see big names like Janet Evanovich, Louise Perry, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell and most recently, Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch, one of the Best Books of 2013, going for 2.99 or less.
And in September, my sales went to half of what they’d been. They’ve stayed at half what they’d been in spite of doing active marketing, ads on Kirkus Reviews, giveaways, promos in those same lists I get in my email inbox, and launching two new books.
When I reported on indie authors' drop in sales last year I attributed the decline to greater price competition from the major publishers, a plausible idea. This year we are looking at anecdotal evidence of a similar decline and attributing it to the effect of Kindle Unlimited.
While it is entirely possible that we did identify the respective causes, it is just as likely that we fell for the post hoc logical fallacy. Given that we are looking at what could be a cyclical market trend, I think we need to consider the possibility that both declines have the same cause.
And in case you’re wondering why I didn’t raise this point last week, it’s because I didn’t think of it until a couple hours after I published that post.
I don’t know what would cause the declines, but I do think that it’s worth our time to ponder it and be ready just in case it happens again next year.
Why do you think the sales have declined?