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Publisher eBook Sales Fell 10% in 2017

NPD reported on Wednesday what everyone already knew from the past few years of AAP monthly revenue reports: publisher ebook sales are down.

From PW:

Unit sales of traditionally published e-books fell 10% in 2017, compared to 2016, according to figures released by PubTrack Digital, part of the NPD book group. The service, which tracks sales from about 450 publishers, said e-book unit sales hit 162 million last year, down from 180 million units in 2016.

NPD reported that combining print sales from its BookScan service with PubTrack digital sales, e-books accounted for 19% of total units (both print and digital) last year, down from 21% in 2016. The top selling e-book among the trade publishers, it reported, was The Handmaid’s Tale published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Back in 2015, when PubTrack Digital was still owned by Bookscan, PubTrack Digital reported that 223 million ebooks were sold by publishers in 2014.

That was shown to be under half the market then (around 44%). All independent reports suggest that the ebook market has not significantly shrunk in the intervening years, which means that the  PubTrack Digital data points to a significant drop in market share for the publishers who supply data.

I would put it at around a third of units sold, but I am still waiting to see if Data Guy has estimates he can share from the Author Earning report.

I will update this post with his data if I can.

image by San José Public Library

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Mark Williams – The New Publishing Standard April 25, 2018 um 1:17 pm

That will be interesting. Data Guy made a clear point of NOT addressing the size of the ebook market in the last AE Report.

Data Guy offered us the rather unhelpful statement that, "far from losing ground, the overall indie (ebook) market share has grown."

But that is meaningless, as we all know trad pub ebook sales have fallen. Therefore the indie market share as a percentage will have grown even if indie sales also dropped, but less significantly.

Data Guy says in AE Jan 2018 "(It doesn’t make sense to compare our new, continuously aggregated market-wide data against one of our old single-day, single-retailer AE snapshots; that would be an apples-vs-oranges comparison, and relatively meaningless"

But when one does make that comparison the difference is disturbing.

Jan 2018: “During the last three quarters of 2017, we recorded $1.3 billion in individually tracked ebook sales, $490 million in individually tracked audiobook sales, and $3.1 billion in individually tracked online hardcover and paperback purchases."

That’s $1,300,000,000 ebooks sales revenue for nine months.

Extrapolating for twelve months: $1,733,333,333

That compares to the AE Feb 2017 assertion that total US ebook revenue amounted to $3,177,000,000 in 2016.

When I asked Data Guy about this he came back with the apples and oranges excuse as to why this comparison was invalid.

But does that counter-argument stand up to scrutiny?

The apples I am comparing are the number of ebooks AE claims were sold in 2017 (Feb 2017 AE Report) vs the other apple of the numbers AE claims were sold in Q2-4 2017 extrapolated to include Q1.

The methods Data Guy used to obtain the numbers may be apples and oranges, but the number of ebooks sold is an apple either way.

Mark Williams – The New Publishing Standard April 25, 2018 um 1:44 pm

Penultimate para' should read "The apples I am comparing are the number of ebooks AE claims were sold in 2016 (Feb 2017 AE Report vs…"

There’s never an edit button when you need one.

LS April 25, 2018 um 6:30 pm

$15.99 for a new ebook and $8.99 for a backlist title, I know why I drastically reduced my ebook purchases from traditional publishers! I shrunk my new auto buy list down to more than a tenth of what it used to be, and rarely buy backlist stuff from them anymore.

Xaver Basora April 25, 2018 um 7:49 pm


Well this pricing strategy gas been the norm in Spain. Coupled with making ebooks for new titles either unavailable or overpriced compared to a paperback.
Sorry dudes but i’m not subsidizing your paper distribution monopoly

Sharon April 26, 2018 um 5:44 am

My ongoing solution for ridiculous trad-pubbed ebook prices is called LIBRARY. It’s working pretty well. Even if I don’t get the books right away (there’s a huge hold line in front of me for Comey’s book, and I’ve had Grisham’s new one on hold for at least 3 months), I have plenty of indie books to keep me busy. And for backlist ebooks with stupid price tags, I buy used paperbacks.

And I suspect I’m not the only one.

Nate Hoffelder April 26, 2018 um 7:35 am


Steve H. April 26, 2018 um 9:56 am

You are not the only one!

Xaver Basora April 26, 2018 um 7:56 pm

But i won’t buy used paperbacks due to space limitations at my place. So i still refuse to bend to traditional publishing’s will.
Just sell me the books i want in my choice of format.
Not tough

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