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Publisher Asks For Advice on Boosting eBook Sales, But Does He Secretly Want Validation For His Focus on Print?

5614029835_f43855460a_bI used to own a small book of business aphorisms, one of which was:

Beware those who ask for feedback. They are really asking for validation.

That saying came to mind today when I read a post over on Teleread.

Joe Biel, the publisher at Microcosm Publishing, revealed that ebooks only account for 1% of Microcosm’s sales. He then invites the reader to tell him how he can boost sales, but it is hard to say whether that is Biel’s true motive or simply an ulterior one.

While Biel does ask for help in increasing ebook sales, he also says that as a whole ebooks are "a veritable commercial flop". He then goes on to claim that:

It often takes fifteen minutes to get a stranger’s assumptions on the table and to explain what the facts are: bookstores just had a record sales year and have been growing steadily. Paper books still comprise 95-96 percent of total industry sales, with e-books shrinking from their 2012 peak at eight percent of industry market share.

Of course, since the medium is already in decline within ten years after its launch, it’s probable that it will either see a major technological innovation, go the way of the laserdisc and BETAMax,? or globalism will create major logjams in paper supplies and e-books will be our de-facto option.

As you can see, Biel is clearly making up industry statistics out of whole cloth, stats which are contradicted by every other industry source, including the AAP, Author Earnings Report, and Nielsen; heck, even my sentient Magic 8-Ball disagrees with Biel.

Furthermore, Biel’s post is rife with pessimism to such a degree that I don’t think he really wants any help with his ebook sales.

He has protested otherwise in the comments over at Teleread, but I don’t believe him.

I have often found that one can look at how a writer or speaker frames their argument and draw conclusions about what they believe and their position on a topic. Rob Levine, for example, demonstrated in his book and in his keynote at a conference that he hated internet companies (he called them digital parasites, and worse).

Sometimes the unstated beliefs contradict what is said or written, and that’s what I think is happening with Biel. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty what he wants to accomplish, but I don’t think he wants tips for boosting his ebook sales.

From the way he makes shit up, and the pessimistic spin on the post, I think Biel just wants validation for his focus on paper books.

What do you think?

image by tompagenet

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Smart Debut Author February 1, 2016 um 10:01 pm

I think Biel’s lonely and just wants attention.

It’s kind of sad.

Joe Biel February 1, 2016 um 10:09 pm

I want help selling eBooks. Why wouldn’t I want to sell more? Does no one actually have any advice?

Do I need to write a counter editiorial:

"Editorial Claims That Publisher is Seeking Validation, Becomes Emotionally Distraught and Closes Down When Discussion is Requested."

We could go like this for years! You ready?

Sooooo……lonely…..! 🙂

I can support the numbers that I provided but strangely no one has asked!

Mackay Bell February 1, 2016 um 10:26 pm

Joe, I have some advice for you.

If your are truly interested in how to sell more ebooks, a quick google search will lead to tons of information. Or you can just follow the Digital Reader or Passive Voice on a regular basis. They often link to good ebook marketing tips. Or check through the blogs of successful self-publishers like JA Konrath or Hugh Howey who are making tons in ebooks and offer great tips and suggestions.

But in regard to your company, Microcosm Publishing, specifically, I’m not sure you really need marketing advice about how to sell more ebooks. I notice that your company catalogue prominently includes: "Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting (Third Edition)" It’s quite possible that book will always do better in print. I also doubt there’s really serious money to be made in the composting ebooks genre, even with excellent marketing advice. So if you’re doing well with it in print, maybe he count your blessings and keep at it.

It also seems logical that Microcosm’s "Princesses and Fairies Coloring Book" and “Fairy Tale Colouring Book,” as well as the many other coloring books you sell aren’t at the top of the ebook charts. Even with wonderful advice about selling ebooks, coloring books might always do better in print. At least, that’s kind of my take on it.

One book that might offer more hope in the ebook market would be Microcosm’s first (yes, your site says it is your FIRST) YA novel, The Velocipde Races. It is also a steampunk novel. My advice, change the pink cover which doesn’t look like a steampunk novel. Try adding some dark tones and maybe even steam. Oh, and why don’t you keep at that YA thing and trying publishing another book or two in the genre? I’ve heard it’s kind of popular.

Your catalogue is quirky with a lot of variety and that’s nice. It looks like the kinds of titles I could see scattered around a quirky bookstore. But frankly, that’s kind of why I’ve stopped going into quirky bookstores and instead buy ebooks online. I didn’t see many titles that look like they deserved more than the 3,000 print run you see as the industry average or that looked like they would take off in digital format. Even with better marketing. There are plenty of indy YA titles that sell over 3,000 ebooks a day. I don’t see anything in your catalogue that reminds me of them.

For example, when I reviewed the catalogue by subject, I found that there are many, many books about bikes under the listing “Bike.” Fiction and non fiction about bicycling. Perhaps books that appeal to bike enthusiasts do better in print. Or bicyclists shop at quirky bookstores. Microcosm also has books under the subject of Cards, Feminism, Gardening, Graffiti, Literary, Labor, Prison, Sociology, etc. Strangely, you do not have subject listings of “Romance,” “Erotica,” “Detective,” “Thrillers” or even “Science Fiction.” (And I didn’t stumble upon any books in your catalogue that appeared to be fit those descriptions.) I believe I heard somewhere that romance novels sell almost as well as bike books, but you might want to check on that. You do have a listing for “Zombies,” which is dear to my heart, but there wasn’t much there except “Pedal Zombies” which is also included in Microcosm’s very popular bike area. (No zombie apocalypse novels.) Under the subject: “Espionage,” I didn’t find any spy novels (which sell well in ebook format), but rather non-fiction about how to pick locks or build homemade silencers for guns. Again, I’m not convinced there’s a huge ebook market for how to make homemade silencers and have little advice to give you how to better market them.

In closing, Joe, I don’t think you need advice on how to sell more ebooks of the books Microcosm has in print. I’m not sure you can sell more.

But I do think you need a ton of advice on the kinds of books to publish that will appeal to readers of ebooks. (Hint: try romance, erotica, YA, detective, thrillers, science fiction and zombie apocalypse novels.) You might even find those kinds of books will sell more than the industry average of 3,000 copies.

Dude February 1, 2016 um 10:59 pm

Maybe we can stop being snide and just say, 'Different strokes (mediums) for different folks (books)'.

Dude February 1, 2016 um 10:59 pm

It’s 2016 and we’re still discussing the genres that sell in different formats zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Nils Kragen February 1, 2016 um 11:33 pm

One of the bad things about the internet is that it gives morons a voice. Like this guy.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter since said morons accomplish little more than getting folks irritated.

Like Donald Trump and Rafael Cruz, ignore them and they will go away.

Kevin February 2, 2016 um 4:22 am

Some more advice. Say "Thank you" to people like Mackay Bell who go out of their way to give sound advice. Really! It makes you seem like a normal person.

Lemuel, Michael M. February 2, 2016 um 10:07 am

Now I’m interested in the coloring e-book! Can I send a copy to my daughter and let her color it on her tablet (Andriod, I think)?

It sounds ironic at first, but with tech these days… I? it!

How do I get the author to send me a signed copy?

Joe Biel February 2, 2016 um 10:23 am

Dear Mackay,

Thanks for your helpful comments. You seem to be the second person willing to admit that our existing lists thrive better in print and that this is not a result of viewpoints or spurning of format.

Our average paperback sells just over 5,000 copies. Even some of our bestselling paperbacks will sell 79,000 in print and 150 in eBooks or 109,000 in print and 300 in eBook. That’s not even 1%. We nearly double NPR and Publisher Weekly’s average sales of 3,000 so what we are doing is working.

We have many people who advise on this stuff at our trade distribution partners, Perseus and Turnaround UK. We required by Amazon to discount everything 30% from the print prices, rounding down to the nearest 99 cents.

We’ve run numerous price fixing deals, discounts, bundles, promotions, etc. None of them have worked.

The issue with Steampunk and YA is that they are incredibly crowded, competitive shelves. We scored a blurb from Cherie Priest for that one and we have great author support. The bigger issue is that the acceptable prices on YA are so low ($9.95 for 256 pages) that our margin works out to about $2/book and it’ll be a very close prospect to breaking even on staff time and expenses even selling 3,000 copies and a starred review in Library Journal.

Betting on indy YA titles that sell over 3,000/day at non-giveaway prices would be like playing the lottery: losing more than winning.

We are a small publisher so we do have a strong editorial focus (Pedal Zombies is a zombie apocalypse novel available in eBook, it sells about 20 copies per month) and as I pointed out in the original article, it may just be the circumstance of what we found early successes with that happen to be print success stories and books of little interest in digital. We have a handful of SciFi titles but they are generally not books that we more than recoup on, if that.

So as I pointed out in the original article, I already understood that if we completely abandoned 20 years of history and fans, we could theoretically build a new list for electronic formats in a highly competitive arena where people are not willing to pay as much per book. I get that. But this seems like strange advice and a huge gamble whereas the market we exist in now has fairly little competition.

Joe Biel February 2, 2016 um 11:10 am

And to the headline’s point: My validation has been a successful 20 year career in publishing from a company that I started in my closet that had its best year yet in 2015.

But based on the helpful feedback, it seems that our eBook sales are more ore less where they should be, based on our editorial focus.

I was hoping for a better answer than that, but sometimes you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

Cherokee Schill February 2, 2016 um 11:29 am

Snarky editorial wants validation?
Asking for business advice and he’s told to Google it?
This article is completely lacking in constructive criticism.
Does anyone have any valid advice for the subject of this article?

Mackay Bell February 2, 2016 um 12:17 pm

Joe, if you’re happy with your business, I’m very happy for you.

If you want advice on selling more ebooks, which is what you post stated, first, you absolutely need to get better covers for The Velocipde Races and Pedal Zombies. Those ones specifically don’t cut it in the digital market and it’s no surprise if they aren’t selling ebooks. (A lot of your covers seem problematic in that way.) Hire Derrek Murphy who is an expert in creating covers that sell ebooks. ( If you have titles that have sold 109,000 in print and only 300 ebooks (I’d be curious what those titles are and what genres), then you probably have cover issues with those books also. At minimum, that would be the first place to invest some time and money to really test new approaches on a few key titles in more popular genres.

The bigger issue is that people are reasonably questioning how sincere you are about wanting advice and whether you really just want to try to talk down the incredible success indies are having self-publishing and the explosive growth of ebooks, which has gone from basically a zero profit business to a 500 million plus dollar industry in five years.

If you own a fish restaurant and are doing good, great. But don’t claim that people don’t really like hamburgers or that hamburgers are a fad that is fading. Certainly don’t claim people hate hamburgers while pretending to ask for advice for your fish menu. The statistics that you cited trying to imply that ebooks aren’t a viable market simply aren’t correct. It might not be a market you understand or want to compete in, but it’s definitely a real business, a growing business, that some people are making millions in.

Real success in ebooks requires competing smartly in a very competitive space. That’s correct. Anyone wanting a big piece of that business needs to have books in the correct genres, good covers… and then clever marketing (which includes things like giveways, bookbub, perma free, etc.). Most of your catalogue doesn’t appear to meet the first two points (the apparent lack of romance novels is particularly noticeable) so I wouldn’t worry much about the marketing aspect if you aren’t willing to address that.

Your issue of “only” making $2 per ebook sale indicates you really don’t understand the ebook market at all. Real ebook success is all about volume, which is why having material in popular genres is critical. (That being said, many indy writers are quite happy with much more modest sales in less popular genres.) I know you said that some of your books have sold as much as 109,000, but you also say on average you’re doing double the PW average of 3,000. So you have many, many titles selling about 6,000 copies per title on average? How much are you making per book after physical distribution, marketing, royalties? $10? $5? So maybe $60,000 profit per title? In ebooks, there are plenty of romance writers who are selling 100,000 or more per title at $2. With digital distribution, that $200,000 is mostly profit. To me, that’s a much better business to be in. But then I like hamburgers.

I have no idea who you are selling so many bike books to. Maybe bike shops put them in racks. Maybe you have distributors who love your garden books and “espionage” locking picking and home made silencer books. Sounds like you’ve built a good business. But your print success in those areas, and your print success in others, has absolutely no bearing on what is going on in the broader market for ebooks. It certainly doesn’t say anything about the popularity of ebooks, past, present or future.

You should be aware also that indy writers are a bit sensitive about this issue because it was determined by the DOJ and the courts that the five biggest print publishers were illegally conspiring to drive ebook prices up to try to protect the print markets and discourage ebook sales. There has also been an ongoing campaign by various traditional publishing supporters to try to downplay the success indies are having with ebooks. So your request for “advice” about why you aren’t selling ebooks, framed with incorrect statistics about ebook sales, is reasonably looked at with suspicion.

But let me assume you really do want some advice. So here’s my free business plan for you to explore the ebook market with minimal amount of time and money.

Invest $1,000 in a better cover for The Velocipde Races, which is your own only YA novel. Right now, it isn’t available on Amazon for Kindle. (Having books available on for Amazon Kindle helps ebook sales.). Price it reasonably at $2.99, but run a lot of free giveaways and get some reviews built up. Then raise the price to $3.99. Wait three months and then do a bookbub sale at $.99 cents. Meanwhile, have that writer work on more YA novels.

At the same time, get a better cover for Pedal Zombies, your only zombie apocalypse offering (as far as I know). That book is a little problematic, because it’s a collection of 12 short stories. While available for Kindle, it is wildly over priced at $5.99 (particularly for short stories) and has only one review. So it seems pretty abandoned. You have little to lose. While I haven’t read the book, I would suggest trying to break it up into a series of books. If you get one great cover, you can then just use the same one with some numbering (1#-#12). Charge only .99 cents per story and put the first (which should be the best) story on perma-free. (Don’t worry if they all aren’t the same length or quality. eBooks are much more forgiving about that kind of thing and having twelve Zombie books at .99 cents will probably sell a heck of a lot better than one collection at $5.99.)

While you’re conducting these experiments, take a look at your other sci-fi novels. They probably need better covers and pricing also. Meanwhile you can keep running the rest of your print business along your already successful path. Best of luck.

Nate Hoffelder February 10, 2016 um 8:23 am

Mackay, Joe might not have appreciated your comment, but I do.

Thank you.

Joe Biel February 2, 2016 um 1:01 pm

Mackay: I did not think that being happy with my business was not in conflict with wanting advice on selling more ebooks,

But as your post indicates, it likely IS! It seems that we would need to jeopardize what we do best (covers designed to sell a print edition, title development, a strong editorial stance in certain categories) to make eBook sales really work. The idea has long been thrust upon us that all four formats should use the same cover for recognizability’s sake.

Velocipede Races isn’t released yet but we would expect that one to do well in digital. If we sell the Velocipede Races at $2.99 and invest $1,000 in a new cover, we receive $1.21 per book 150 days after date of sale and would have to sell 1,322 copies just to recoup. It would essentially need to become a runaway bestseller to cover even our staff wages. Our typical margin is much better than this even with freight/printing/warehousing/co-op fees. It seems that truly adopting to digital cuts into bottom line and undermines Microcosm’s approach that does work, which I hadn’t counted on. As it is, our operation now scales very well.

Here are some books that did very well in print but flopped in digital:

We don’t have digital rights for some of our other bestsellers and some have done reasonably well (20-50% of paperback sales). But in many cases we never actually recoup on conversions.

And looking at it as "you would have to dramatically change every aspect of what you do and join a much riskier and more crowded market" just doesn’t make any sense for anyone.

Why would I now want sincere advice? Why would I come here to "talk down the incredible success indies are having?" That isn’t practical for anyone.

To me it’s much more practical to point out that an individual’s likelihood of success as a self-publisher is very marginal and this drive is what has allowed Amazon to develop an increasing virtual monopoly on the industry.

To me, the rejection of acknowledging that more books are sold in either gift or specialty sales channels than the entire digital market is what concerns me. Removing those markets is what makes your statistics work. That’s where book sales are moving. I’ve watched it appear and take over conventional book sales. I understand that if those markets are not available to you, it’s easier to not include that in your evaluation of the industry but to deny that it’s a market share of book sales is to misunderstand the issue. Similarly, coloring books comprised $50M in sales last year alone. That had a huge impact to reduce the market share of digital.

This isn’t personal and I don’t think my way is better. I’m here to learn and met with blanket antagonism.

Let’s be honest: How many people are making millions from digital self-publishing? (not the same as selling millions of copies as it seems that these rigged marketing languages are calculated on free or 99 cent sales). How many people are making a living? I understand that some people are but people seem as protective of this data as Amazon is about revealing their sales figures for scrutiny. And I understand that it’s tender and artistic hopes are pinned on those successes but it doesn’t serve your argument to overstate the issue or cherrypick statistics to make this case.

Chris Meadows February 3, 2016 um 3:55 am

If your covers do so well in print, then keep them on the print editions. I mean, duh. Why is that even an issue? If Harry Potter’s UK publisher could come out with different covers for its print books to sell both to kids and adults, you can darned well have a different one for e-books than you do for print.

You’re having a problem selling e-books. You asked for advice. You got it. Then you want to reject it because it wouldn’t work for print?

Well, whatever. You’re really only proving Nate’s point more with each further comment.

Joe Biel February 3, 2016 um 8:32 am

Perhaps some perspective would help: Our budget is about one one-millionth of that of anyone who touched Harry Potter. Launching different covers for different formats vastly inflates marketing budgets and the need to make all covers familiar to their correct target demographic. I can tell you this because we’ve tried.

I did ask for advice and I received mostly sneers and insults but also a bit of advice, most of which I took to heart and followed. We are lowering prices to $2.99 to $6.99.

Jason van Gumster February 3, 2016 um 10:15 am

In all this back and forth, something does strike me as being worthy of notice. It seems to me that, from the sound of things, the specialty/gift market of print books has been equally marginalized as the independent ebook market. *Neither* seem to be accounted for in "industry" statistics… and from the discussion here, *both* of those markets have a poor read on the size and scale of each other.

A lot of folks have started to consider the indie ebook market as separate and not necessarily competing with the traditional publishing market. Perhaps the same can and should be said about the specialty/gift market.

Whatever the publishing market, one thing *is* consistent: it’s damn hard to be successful. Period. Disparaging the success of folks in a separate (and arguably non-competing) market only breaks down conversation and prevent cross-market learning from happening.

Joe Biel February 3, 2016 um 10:37 am

I agree. This is a great observation. Speciality and gift are often disparaged by old school booksellers because the development is a bit different there as well (just like trade differs from digital). It’s also very true that gift and specialty rarely compete with trade sales. They are often impulsive buys.

I can understand feeling snubbed and marginal but it’s vital not to take these perceptions to heart. The thing that I noticed here most is that people are very reactionary. Does it really matter what the big five are doing or what other people think of you if you are successful? We have been successful because we did things that were "inadvisable" considering known best practices in the 90s. We could have spent tens of thousands applying for awards and trade recognition but instead we focused on building a movement. Of course this resulted in much disparagement and off-kilter commentary. Fortunately, I was stubborn enough never to take it to heart and always put my best foot forward.

Jason van Gumster February 3, 2016 um 9:14 pm

To be fair, Joe, my post was aimed in equal parts at you and members of this community. Your stats with respect to the ebook market are wildly inaccurate and you’ve mistakenly drawn conclusions about the entire market based on a non-representative sample (that is, the intersection of that market and your existing business). You’ve all but completely dismissed the very valid and useful suggestions offered by Mackay. Following those recommendations, you *can* make a compelling go at the ebook market. Yes, you’d need to approach it differently… but isn’t that what being a nimble, adaptive business is all about?

At the same time, there are things indies can certainly learn from the approach you’ve taken. So much focus is on wide distribution networks afforded by digital distribution… but the specialty and gift outlets can be prime venues for an enterprising indie. As you’ve noticed, it’s a niche space… indies thrive in niches. Of course, it would require taking a different approach on a few things, but again nimble, adaptive, blah blah.

In any case, I’ve probably rambled on for too long. My point remains, this should be an opportunity to share and learn… not to dismiss the other approach out of hand.

Joe Biel February 4, 2016 um 7:41 am

If you include the ENTIRE book market, then my statistics are accurate. I can see why you wouldn’t want to do that, but the sole study that everyone in this community parrots that does not show a flat-lined or shrinking market share would be deemed "wildly inaccurate" by most people in the industry. People have been lying with statistics as long as statistics have existed. But here, the statistics seem to be a way to reinforce and support feelings. And virtually no accepted statistics not support your perspective.

Again, you are telling me what my conclusions are and what I have dismissed when that is not accurate. I’ve been in the business for 20 years and consulting with hundreds of other publishers with substantial backlists to inform my perspective during that time. I did not dismiss his suggestions. I only pointed out that they wouldn’t work for us. Does it offend you personally that our approach cannot change to be like yours over night?

As many have pointed out, including Mackay, most of our lists are not popular digital products. And we would have to abandon what works for us (we don’t have big enough budgets to do both). For example, we sold two eBooks on the first day of this post, zero on the second, and three on the third. All the while selling about 1,000 total paper books. It’s curious to me that the example and sales stats that I shared garnered zero responses.

I assumed that some basic tweaking could resolve these issues but it would require a dismantling of some of the most functional aspects of what is working now. As I’ve shown in the numbers, gift is a MUCH bigger and wider distribution network than digital. Why Nielsen does not reflect these numbers (other than the limitations of their recording system)…I don’t know. I don’t take it personally. But it does serve to mislead the public in the same way as Amazon not revealing their sales data.

How many people are making millions from digital self-publishing? (not the same as selling millions of copies as it seems that these rigged marketing languages are calculated on free or 99 cent sales). How many people are making a living? I understand that some people are but people seem as protective of this data as Amazon is about revealing their sales figures for scrutiny. And I understand that it’s tender and artistic hopes are pinned on those successes but it doesn’t serve your argument to overstate the issue or cherrypick statistics to make this case.

Jason van Gumster February 4, 2016 um 8:25 am

Hold a tic. Where does it read that I’ve taken anything personally in my post… or been offended at all? Also, where did I say that I expect your business to change overnight (or at all)? Market access is not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to abandon one market to expand into another (assuming you’re legitimately interested in expanding). You may have to modify your approach for that other market, but that *should* be expected. The suggestions you’ve been given are a proven methodology that works.

It’s also interesting how it seems that you’re doing the same cherry-picking of statistics that you’re claiming everyone else is doing (e.g. "my stats are accurate, but these other 'industry' stats aren’t.") For the record, Nielson doesn’t accurately reflect the size of the ebook market, either. Ignorance is a two-way street here.

And although you copy-and-pasted your last paragraph from a previous reply (bad form), let me try to address that… reframe it even. How many authors are making millions from *any* publishing? (not the same as publishing companies… authors). How many authors make a living? The truth is that regardless of how their books are published, most authors *don’t* make a living from those books. Most authors have some form of secondary income. That doesn’t diminish the fact that there’s a substantial number of successful full-time authors in each of the markets we’ve been discussing… and I’d posit a guess that proportionally the percentage of full-time authors in each space is roughly the same. If you have definitive numbers that refute that guess, I’d love to see them.

Joe Biel February 4, 2016 um 10:04 am

It is, by definition, not cherrypicking to include the entire market as the definitive statistic. But yet you describe them as "wildly inaccurate."

It’s amazing how many people take this as personally insulting and behave in such a reactionary manner. It’s impossible for me to take the insults seriously but what perplexes me is the constant questioning of how motives and sincerity.

You say that I have "completely dismissed" feedback when that isn’t true. As many times as I’ve explained how this is not possible within our budgets to develop and market truly separate editions, this is somehow "proof" that I am only looking for validation. Do you have enough of a budget to do that? Does any true indie? Does that undermine the legitimacy of my interest in selling my expanding? I modify my approach to the market every day. We usually have ten rounds of back and forth on cover consultancy with our distributors per title. Minor language is constantly tweaked in development.

I’m glad that you’re not above criticizing my form and again side-stepping my questions. The argument here seems to be authors trying to define themselves as publishers and finding the vanity tag of self-publisher unflattering, preferring "indie" to acknowledging the dependence on the largest corporation in the entire publishing industry. Very few author have ever made millions or even a living. But publishers have consistently done both. This isn’t an issue of an unfair industry. It’s a matter of volume. And marketing savvy. And based on the predicated aspects of how eAuthors try to reframe this question, I believe that it’s a fair question. If you believe this market is shifting and growing, how many e-publishers are making a living? How many are earning millions?

I’ve sold over 2.5 million paperbacks, most of which post-recession. Our average book is $9.95. Are we not allowed to compare apples to apples? I don’t have a second job. We post annual financial reports on our blog. But the most telling aspect to me is how arguing about data and statistics mires the actual questions that get past it. And when I get honest answers, they tend to be "99% of our catalog is not destined to sell much in digital." That’s very helpful information and reinforces what our distributor tells us. Lowering prices is helpful, actionable information. Developing and marketing an additional edition for digital is expensive and risky for us. That’s not completely dismissing it. That’s carefully calculating risks and filing that information away for when it’s practical. I came here to learn and learn I have!

Do you really believe there are as many authors who have earned a living or millions in eBook royalties as there are who have done so from traditional publishing? Bear in mind, even by best estimates, the vastly lower prices in digital and short life of the medium in comparison makes this impossible even if you dismiss market shares of the AAP.

My most re-tweeted moment was posting an article claiming that digital self-publishing was the Napster of books. My point was that Napster further reduced the pay scale for musicians and their likelihood of selling records, which I thought authors would presumably find to be a negative outcome. To the contrary, Tweeterers found it to be a veritable celebration. Whether that’s because they saw it differently than I did or misinterpreted it will always be up for interpretation. A shake-up can be good. It rattles the white hairs who got too comfortable. I started at 18 and have honestly enjoyed the industry shifts in title development and packaging.

I get it that this is about hope and dreams and artistic aspirations; opening doors of opportunity. I think those are great things to be encouraged. We all need stuff to believe in.

Nate Hoffelder February 4, 2016 um 11:33 am

"It is, by definition, not cherrypicking to include the entire market as the definitive statistic."

Please link to the source for your statistics. I linked to my sources, and they disagree with you.

Smart Debut Author February 4, 2016 um 11:38 am

Considering where Biel pulled his stats from, linking to them might be physically painful. 😀

Nate Hoffelder February 4, 2016 um 12:04 pm


Smart Debut Author February 4, 2016 um 11:49 am

Jokes aside, he’s almost certainly going to reference:
1) Print numbers from the annual BISG statistical estimates that, at $27 billion, are so wildly inflated and out of alignment with the actual sales that publishers and bookstores report, that behind closed doors, no knowledgeable industry analyst in traditional publishing actually takes them seriously.
2) ebook numbers from Nielsen’s PubTrack, which polls "almost 30 publishers" representing less than a fifth of all US ebooks purchased, and then pretends those numbers as "85% of the US ebook market." Needless to say, no traditional publishing industry analyst takes those numbers without a shakerful of salt, either.

But hey, if the man wants to live in his own reality, he’s entitled to.

Like I said, he’s just here trying to be provocative and making a sad play for attention.

Nate Hoffelder February 4, 2016 um 12:06 pm

Actually, the AAP stats I linked to said that the entire book publishing industry was worth the same as that $27 billion figure you mentioned, and that ebooks accounted for around $3.5 billion.

That’s over 10%, and from an official source.

Nate Hoffelder February 4, 2016 um 12:09 pm

On the other hand, maybe he’s going to cite some global stats which prove his point?

Those numbers would be irrelevant, IMO, but not impossible.

Smart Debut Author February 4, 2016 um 12:15 pm

The AAP provides 2 different kinds of reports —

1) the monthly StatShots, which summarize reported sales data from 1200 publishers and which, taken for what they are, and aside from the occasional after-the-fact error correction, are quite reliable.

2) the annual (formerly BISG) statistical estimates, which are attempts to project the size of the non-reporting part of the market based on Bowker’s ISBN-registrations. Official industry sources have long viewed those with skepticism, and rightfully so… the economy activity they imply — including over a billion unaccounted-for print-book sales — is not reflected in government economic census figures for any market sector, or in the reports of any sales channel. In short, they make no sense at all.

Nate Hoffelder February 10, 2016 um 8:21 am

Yes, but do you have anything better than the AAP’s figures?

Also, note how Biel didn’t post any stats.

Joe Biel July 13, 2016 um 1:39 pm

I really miss you guys and this incredibly awesome butt-hurt reaction.

Is anyone else here making a living by publishing or are you too busy arguing about data?

Why is it so easy to get your goat?

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