Over the last year, we’ve been talking to writers like A.G. Riddle who have been making a more than comfortable living selling e-books directly to readers on Amazon. That’s why it’s always seemed a bit strange to see media accounts reporting on the shrinking market for e-books.
News outlets like The New York Times report that e-book sales continue to slip, which is true if the data only covers part of the market. Reports from the Association of American Publishers has data from 1,200 publishers. They are the largest publishers, but they are also losing market share.
E-book sales never declined, according to a presentation yesterday at Digital Book World in New York City. In fact, if anything, we don’t yet have an adequate way to estimate how much the market segment has grown.
In back-to-back presentations from from the data site Author Earnings and publishing tech firm Overdrive, it became clear that “unit sales” may not be the best way to measure the size of the book market. In more and more ways it’s becoming clear that there are additional ways for writers to earn money than by readers buying whole books or even buying books at all.
Author Earnings estimates that 485,538,000 e-book units were sold in 2016.
Author Earnings makes estimates of all the sales on Amazon. “There are 20,000 unique publishers who show up in that dataset,” Author Earnings’ anonymous Data Guy said during his presentation at the conference. Amazon guards its information carefully, but Author Earnings has been able to crawl the online retail giant’s author rankings and estimate both relative and total sales of books, both print and digital. It corroborates its estimates using real sales data privately shared with the site by large authors.