No, CNN, eBook Sales Have Not Plunged Nearly 20%
CNN’s Ivana Kottasová not only misunderstood the stats from the UK PA, she also dug up and misunderstood the latest industry stats released by the Association of American Publishers.
New data suggest that the reading public is ditching e-books and returning to the old fashioned printed word.
Sales of consumer e-books plunged 17% in the U.K. in 2016, according to the Publishers Association. Sales of physical books and journals went up by 7% over the same period, while children’s books surged 16%.
The same trend is on display in the U.S., where e-book sales declined 18.7% over the first nine months of 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers. Paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period, and hardback sales increased 4.1%.
The problem with CNN’s report is not the facts (which are correct) so much as the context and the interpretation of said facts.
While CNN and other sites are implying that the sales data reflects the entire market, the AAP and the UK PA stats only reflects a part of their respective industries.
For example, in the UK the Publisher Association said consumer ebook sales totaled £203 million, down 17%. As I reported last week, the pseudonymous Data Guy has an independent estimate which disagrees:
Author Earnings February 2017 report had the UK market at roughly 95,000,000 units and £327 million consumer sales.
In other words, the Publishers Association missed about 38% of the market.
And I am not the only one who says the PA’s data is incomplete. As The Bookseller pointed out when they covered this story last week:
E-book specialist Bookouture sold six million e-books in 2016, yet its numbers are not recorded in the yearbook. Ditto those of Head of Zeus, Endeavour Press, Amazon Publishing or self-published writers. Were they included, our understanding of the fiction market would change fundamentally.
And as for the US market, CNN is wrong to cite AAP stats and call them "US ebook sales" because the AAP does not say their data covers the entire market.
Instead, the footnote for the AAP’s monthly reports says that "StatShot tracks revenues for 1,200 publishers", and AAP spokesperson Marisa Bluestone confirmed that the AAP’s stats reflects what the publishers are earning, and not what consumers are spending.
So not only as CNN misunderstood the scope of the AAP data; they also misinterpreted publisher revenue as ebook sales.
It is generally accepted that the AAP data only covers about half the industry. You can find a more detailed breakdown of AAP data, and what it doesn’t cover, on the Author Earnings website.
To be fair, CNN is not the first to make that mistake; it is quite common for mainstream media to misunderstand book industry stats. (Then again, CNN’s Ivana Kottasová is a _financial_ reporter so you would think she would pick up on the difference.)
And that difference matters.
It’s important to know what the data really says and what it really means because it is being used to spin a narrative that ebook sales are declining.
What the data really says is that _publisher_ ebook revenues are declining. And once we understand that, it raises the question of why these publishers are experiencing a decline in revenue?
As anyone who follows digital publishing industry can tell you, publishers have been raising their ebook prices over the past several years to the point that print books are often now cheaper than ebooks. (It’s not entirely their fault; Amazon likes to deeply discount print books.)
This has led to an entirely expected decline in sales, and does not, as The Guardian would have you believe, reflect consumer preference for one format over the other so much as consumers buying whichever format is cheapest.