Knowing which of your formats (p-mm, p-hc, or e-) your audience is buying and where they buy them is arguably the most critical factor in considering any publishing contract, and also in deciding to shift from traditional to self-publishing.
The recent Rasmussen Report (telephone survey Feb 17/18, 2011) confirmed that as of that date, only 8% of US readers read e-format (4% on dedicated e-readers, 4% on other devices). 71% still buy a print book at some form of retail outlet, and 21% order print books online. That’s all books, not just genre fiction.
So the US book-buyer market (Feb 2011) is only 8% e-book as an overall average.
8%. So 92% are buying and reading in print.
So consider the spectrum of distribution for traditionally published genre fiction paperback authors. For this comparison, bookstores = chains, indies, all online, anything not wholesale. Wholesale = Walmart, Target, Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Costco, etc.
Author A - e-book everywhere; p-book at the lower end of print distribution - shelved in section in bookstores, very little if any in wholesale.
Author B - e-book everywhere; p-book at the mid-point of print distribution - in section in bookstores and some presence at Walmart and Target and the bigger wholesalers at least.
Author C - e-book everywhere and supported; p-book toward the upper end of the print distribution - promoted via coop, paid placement in the front of bookstores, deeply distributed with position on the placement cards through all wholesale outlets including airports, Walgreens, etc, etc. Has a reasonable chance of being slotted almost anywhere books are sold.
All traditionally published authors fall somewhere along the spectrum A - C and in the US all are already being offered to the 8% pool of e-book readers.
From % e-sales for romance/romantic suspense recently aired:
Author A - anything up to 35% of sales might be e-books
Author B - 10 - 12% and slowly but steadily rising as the months go by
Author C - 3 - 6%. And rising, yes, but print outweighs e-sales by a massive margin.
[Note: my own figures may be as high as 20% e-sales in the first month, but that % falls as the print sales continue to roll in]
Let me clarify: this does not mean Author C (which is any of the bestsellers) is not selling well in e-format. Most Author Cs are selling as well if not better in e-format than most successful indie authors, and at significantly higher prices. What it does mean is that Author C sells many more print books.
To underscore that, as of this moment, for even my older titles (constantly in print 10+ years) the monthly e-sales are still lower than the monthly p-sales. That is shifting, but e-sales do not dominate p-book sales even there, yet.
There’s been a lot of speculation on blogs all over as to when traditionally published bestsellers will turn their backs on major publishers and go the self-publishing route with e-book and POD.
Absorb the figures above, and the most likely answer is: Not anytime soon.
Any established author knows that your book must appear in front of your already established readers in the format those readers want, and in the place where those readers go to buy books, for you to retain your sales levels. For any genre fiction bestseller, that format is currently 95% p-book (roughly 85% in wholesale, 10% in bookstores incl online).
Is any bestseller going to turn their backs on 95% of their established audience and sales? No. So is any bestseller going to move from the publishers who can guarantee them reaching that print audience and making those sales? No - or at least, not yet.
What we are seeing with the uptake of e-books is predominantly the readers who used to buy in bookstores and/or online moving to e-books, plus readers who haven’t been buying recently lured back by the technology. That’s not surprising. And with the decline of bookstores, we’ll see more readers moving first online to order print books, and subsequently a percentage of those will take the next step and move to e-books. But the wholesale print reader hasn’t yet shifted to any great degree - and why would they?
What we have seen so far (8%) is just the beginning of the transition of readers - even if all bookstores closed tomorrow, and all those bookstore print readers migrated immediately to e-books, genre fiction paperback bestsellers would still be selling mostly in print via wholesale (approx 15% e-books & 85% in print via wholesale)
What will significantly impact the speed at which e-books replace p-books is the contraction of shelf space in wholesale.
The day either Walmart or Target axes the floor space they currently devote to genre paperback bestsellers is the day genre fiction publishing starts on the downhill run to e-book + POD only.
That will be the first point of pause for traditionally published bestselling genre fiction authors.
By point of pause I mean the day those authors will have to sit down and do the sums about whether to stick with traditional publishers or move to self-publishing, and for bestselling authors, those sums won’t just be about $. They’ll be about reader reach. They’ll be about what balance publishers and authors might strike to continue to cater for established readers still reading in print. For most authors, the ideal is to not have to stop print publishing until virtually all readers have changed to e-books, but realistically it’s not going to happen like that.
There will come a point when doing an off-set print run and distributing mass market books for even bestsellers will become commercially unviable. For some genre fiction bestsellers, it may be that publishing via traditional publishers to the very end will be the preferable option, depending on the deals struck and the size of their established audience sticking to print that they would otherwise have to leave behind.
No long-term established author is going to want to leave welded-on print-readers behind. Uncatered for. We’d have to be daft.
For established authors, it’s always about readers (audience).
Yes, a balance will need to be struck between the finances and audience retention, but for all long-term established authors, bestsellers or not, anywhere from Author A’s position to Author C’s position above, from the point where our individual print distribution starts to decline below a certain point, we’re going to come to our first point of pause, and that point will be different for every author. Once we each reach that point, if we continue with major publishers we’ll need to keep assessing at every contract, at every successive stage of the transition as our audience shifts into reading e-books.
It’s our audience’s behavior - how they react to the decline in availability of print books - that’s going to dictate the speed of the transition.
Clearly the Author As are going to have to face their decisions first, then the Author Bs, until we finally reach the bestseller Author Cs. For bestsellers, the first point of pause won’t come until the wholesale print distribution of our works significantly decreases, and at least 50% of our audience has converted to e-books.
So that’s why established authors are still signing contracts with traditional publishers, and will for at least a while longer. Because we have very large audiences out there who are still determinedly reading in print. It’s not all about e-books for us.
And how does that impact on pricing? Because our pricing is solidly established in print mass market, and for our audience en masse there is no significant difference between print and e-book with respect to what they get from our works. Which is the point we’ll be discussing next week.
To me it is no surprise that newbie indie authors are signing with Big 6 publishers - those new authors want to step outside the 8% pool and have a shot at the other 92% of readers. Mind you, I think Amanda Hocking has sidestepped the point and gone beyond the 8% without major publishers, but I suspect she won’t be an easy act to follow.
For traditionally published authors thinking to switch to self-publishing, what % of your established audience would you be willing to leave behind in print?
So...the big question. How soon before the genre fiction ecosystem goes 100% e-book?
Until I considered the recent data, I was inclined to imagine 3 to 5 years. Now...I’d opt for more than 5 but less than 10, but it ultimately depends on the wholesale print business - and that could change overnight. Any night.
The specific author %e-sales above were drawn from romance/romantic suspense works. Does anyone have similar data on mysteries, thrillers, fantasy works? I would imagine these might differ, but probably not by a lot.
One last point, and for this I’ll speak from my own experience, having 92% of my audience in print severely limits what I can do by way of promotional e-books, because, for instance, doing e-only shorts connected to my major works will seriously aggravate my print readership, who see this as rewarding the e-book readers and discriminating against them. No established author with a large print readership can afford to do this. (So self-published authors can make hay while the sun shines, but it won't always be so - not once established authors start to shift)
On that note: On April 5th, Avon Impulse will release ROYAL WEDDINGS, a collection of three shorts from me, Gaelen Foley and Loretta Chase - all established historical romance authors. These shorts are not connected to our major works, and we are working on making it as easy as possible for our print readership to access these works without having to formally move to e-book readers or apps to do it. The only way we could have done such a release, timed with that other royal wedding, was to do it in e-book + POD, and use a big publisher to take care of the details.
If anyone is interested in the story behind ROYAL WEDDINGS, ask below, and I’ll go into it.
One more post to go before the big one on pricing
Topic of next blog post: will be posted in comments below on Sunday.
Next blog post: will be posted next Friday
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