In a post last month, I mentioned the speculation in Indieland that Amazon had sold its soul to the Secret Masters of Publishing (The Big Six Legacy Publishers and their scaly overlords – the Lizard People ™.) The proof cited for this unholy alliance was Amazon changing its algorithms to favour traditionally published books at the expense of those plucky Indies. The End of the World – not to be confused with the Mayan one – was widely forecast. And there was much gnashing of teeth.
Well, I think things have changed.
In December I happened to notice that French Fried had a ranking that, previously, would have earned an appearance in Amazon’s UK bestseller list for Travel books. But it wasn’t there. A little research showed that ebooks in that list had to have a ranking of about half that of a printed book to achieve the same position in the bestseller list. That is, an ebook with a ranking of 1,000 in the Kindle Store would be placed next to books with a ranking of 2,000 in Books.
Was this proof that Amazon was giving preferential treatment to printed books? All the other times I’d checked earlier in the year there’d been virtual parity between ebooks and print.
Or … was it Christmas?
With what I’ve discovered since (which I’ll cover very soon) I’m pretty sure it was Christmas. When it comes to buying Christmas presents, printed books have the advantage over ebooks. One, it’s a traditional present. Two, a lot of people still don’t have eReaders. And three, although you can gift ebooks, it’s not quite the same as giving a physical, nicely wrapped, printed book.
Which is why I posit that printed books were outselling ebooks in the UK at Amazon by a factor of two to one in the run up to Christmas. And that for most of 2012, ebooks and printed books were running neck and neck.
Which means Amazon’s bestseller list is pretty much sales related – maybe a few tweaks here and there on price, but basically driven by recent sales.
Now comes the interesting bit, what happened after Christmas? Traditionally there’s a post Christmas surge in ebook sales as readers rush to fill up their new Kindles. But has the market reached saturation point yet? How many people are there left who want an eReader but haven’t got one yet?
I did a little checking at Amazon this week to see how ebooks were faring in the US bestseller charts. It makes interesting reading. My book, French Fried, with a ranking in the Kindle Store of 846 was alongside a printed book with a ranking of 252. I sampled the bestseller lists for Biographies, Travel Books, and Entertainment and found similar results. What was more interesting was that there was a pattern. The differential between Kindle Store ranking and Book ranking was greater at the top of the list than at the bottom.
Take Romance, The top 50 sellers were all ebooks. Only the print copy of 50 Shades could make it to 52. And it’s ranking in the Book Store was 15 times higher than the Kindle Store ranking of the ebooks either side of it in the list.
For SF/F, only the new Wheel of Time book could make it into the top 18. And its ranking was 6 times higher than the ebooks either side of it.
I then looked at the bestselling print book – a diet book. It’s ranking was ten times higher than the ebooks either side of it in the Health and Diet bestseller list.
The differential decreased the lower down the lists you went. The mega-selling ebooks were outselling the mega-selling print books by factors of around ten to one. But the ebooks at the bottom of the bestseller lists (the 90-100 range) were outselling the print books by about half, or less, that ratio.
It may be a generalisation, the sample I took was large but not statistically significant, but it looks like there’s been a huge surge in the really popular ebooks post Christmas. Total ebook sales are up, but the better selling (and perhaps more visible) books have disproportionately benefited from the increase.
I did find one category where ebooks didn’t completely dominate. Not surprisingly it was in science textbooks where 8 of the top 20 were still print books.
I sampled the UK bestseller lists and found similar results. The pre-Christmas invasion of print books has ended spectacularly. Ebooks fill most of the charts.
On a personal note, this has been a very good Christmas for me. Last Christmas French Fried was the number one travel book, number two biography, and hit 94 in the list of all ebooks sold on Amazon France. Not bad for a book in English. This Christmas it did even better, reaching the number one spot for biography, entertainment, and also travel. It even made it to three on the non-fiction list and 79 on the list of all ebooks sold in France. And in the US it made it to number 4 on the bestseller list for travel books, and 20 for entertainment and humor.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried – the international bestseller – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?
Resonance – “This is one of the most original new science fiction books I have ever read. If it is as big a hit as it deserves, it may well be this book which becomes the standard by which SF stories about … are judged.”