Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Reports of poor Kindle sales from Waterstones

This was inspired by this article in the Telegraph where Tim Waterstone claims that Kindle sales have 'disappeared'. The reporter then goes on to essentially predict that eBooks have had their day.

There are number of this about this article that annoyed me, but first clearly eReader sales are going to be flattening; they are really only useful for those of us that are avid and continual readers and who are interested in seeking out new books. They are not aimed at casual readers and that limits the market. Once the market reaches saturation (and it probably has) then any further sales will merely be upgrades or replacements for existing eReaders.

However let's be clear: Tim Waterstone is in the business of selling real books from real (and therefore expensive to operate) book shops. He is going to take every opportunity to push the idea that physical print copies are winning the 'war' (there is no war). Getting into bed with Amazon to sell the Kindle direct probably made a fair bit of margin for a few years but it was never going to be a long term source of income.

The reporter on the story also then uses specific examples of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble (reminder: real, expensive book shops interested only in selling physical copies of books) to extrapolate to the end of the eReader.

But what about eBooks? Surely all those people who already have eReaders must be buying eBooks? Well according to the figures quotes by Barnes and Noble in the article, they did 2.2bn in physical book sales but 'only' 300m in eBooks. A damning figure surely? But if you look closer, that is maybe a little above expectations (at least my expectations).

The problem with all eBooks produced by the major publishing houses (who after all is primarily what Waterstones and Barnes & Noble stock) is that they are no cheaper to consume on eBook. And given the choice between spending 7.99 on an eBook and the same on a physical book I'll have the physical book every time. And as discussed above, not everyone is interested in having an eBook. So sales of eBooks that are 14% of physical books actually looks pretty good.

It is interesting that in this article there are no figures quotes from Amazon. Amazon scores over the traditional retailers in two areas: firstly it can discount the books so that the eReader versions start to become economical to buy and also they carry independent authors, whose books sell for 0.99 or 1.99. Cheap enough just to buy and stick on the eReader and read at leisure. This is where the real eBook market is.

Now I don't like the way the Kindle is tied to Amazon so tightly but it does mean it's easy to use. Personally I use a Kobo and have all the conversion/DRM management tools I need for converting to and from any format I require. But what is Amazon's view on how eBooks are selling? This is far more important since they are consumed by the customer in very much the same way - navigate to the website, select the book and click to order. The only difference is that the physical book has to be posted (or shipped by drone of course) whereas the eBook is immediately available whereever you are (surely a real plus point if you unexpectedly run out of reading material).

So the article tells the story as seen from the viewpoint of a couple of businesses who dipped their toes into the eBook world when it is at odds with their primary business model; unsurprisingly they talk down the future of eReaders and eBooks. Yes, currently they will not take over from physical books but they are far from dead as I'm sure the sales of books from independent authors would reveal.

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