e Book Sales Numbers…The Scary Truth

e Book Sales Numberse Book sales numbers often have authors, and their literary agents, scratching their heads during royalty statement time. It’s really hard to discern what’s real – and if numbers are being accurately reported by publishers. And both self publishers and traditional publishers are on the line here. The truth is, authors who self–distribute their eBooks have a far better view of their eBook sales numbers than a traditionally published author. Weird, right? Of course, even then numbers may not be accurate.


Here’s the thing, book sales numbers have been tracked for years by the great team over at Nielsen. They have added reports over the years and are now widely recognized for tracking 75-80% of all book sales through the register. For a long time, that made it really easy for authors and agents to review royalty statements. Of course there were rights sales and direct sales to consider but book sales through the major retail channels were fairly transparent.


As eBooks have exploded on to the marketplace, royalty statements have become more complicated, book sales statistics harder to track and, in some cases, people have begun to question as to whether or not Nielsen Bookscan can stay relevant in today’s digital age. To be fair, the inability to accurately track eBook sales isn’t Nielsen’t fault. And, they aren’t the only ones having trouble.


The number of blog posts, statistics and “guesses” at figuring out the eBook market is almost laughable. Here’s what we tell our clients: your best look at your eBook sales is by reviewing your eBook distribution accounts with KDP, Nook Press and iBookstore. Publishers who self-distribute have direct access to their data at these accounts. But then again, the numbers are only as transparent as the reporting.


The truth of the matter is, it’s incredibly difficult to track eBook sales numbers and that’s dangerous for authors and publishers alike. Printed books are a physical commodity. There’s a set number of books printed, a set number of books shipped, a set number of books stocked, warehoused and, ultimately, returned. If there’s ANY question about sales, an author or publisher representative can get to a warehouse and start counting. Physical books leave a footprint and it’s easy to tell when things go awry in accounting. That’s not the case with eBooks.


With e Book sales figures we are all relying on technology and integrity to get accurate accounting. We try to extrapolate percentages and reading trends to figure out if the numbers we are seeing are accurate. In fact the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) just released their final report on eBook reading trends. Our friend Jack W. Perry (@38enso) wrote a great blog post and breakdown on the BISG Report and eBook stats here. This particular report is based on consumer feedback on reading habits. Not surprisingly, fiction ranks huge in the eBook format.But I digress…..


At this point there is no hard and fast way to track and analyze e Book sales numbers and that’s just flat out scary. How do we really know how many eBooks are downloaded, sold, borrowed or given away during a promo? We don’t. We are relying solely on technology and integrity for the truth. I wish that made me sleep better at night.


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