Sales of self-published ebooks, in particular, have dropped suddenly and alarmingly.
After years of steady growth, e-book sales for indie authors have started to hit a problem.
The most recent data from Author Earnings in their latest quarterly report gives ample proof of the drop off in self-publishing sales and earnings.
While the data is clear, the reason or reasons why the number of books sold by indie authors has fallen so quickly is definitely not so clear.
The long list of comments attached to the Author Earnings report gives rise to many possible scenarios.
But as the report and some commenters mention, the most likely causes are a change in algorithms by Amazon.
It could be a glitch in the Kindle Unlimited pay-per-page read program. Or a sudden change of marketing emphasis by Amazon.
There is also the possibility that Bookbub has added to the problem by accepting fewer self-published books to promote.
As I say, added to the problem, as I do not believe Bookbub is the root cause.
Markets will always fluctuate.
Whatever the reasons, the bad news only relates to the last quarter, or perhaps a little longer. But ups and downs in any market are to be expected.
Therefore, it is a good lesson to heed. If you are publishing on Amazon, the market will always move, and the reasons why it moves are completely out of the control of authors.
Self-publishing is still very much in its infancy, and every participant is still learning; including Amazon.
Sure, it’s a given that Amazon was the real pioneer of self-publishing. It has helped so many authors by giving them the opportunity to self-publish. But also, to have their e-books and books available for sale on Amazon. Which is, of course, the largest ebook retailer in the world.
However, Amazon is not a charity. It is a business. And it will make business decisions that will not always be positive for its suppliers. Which, in this case, are authors with their books on Amazon.
Business 101 says that you should never have your business controlled by one major supplier or one major customer. In the case of many self-published authors, Amazon KDP or KDP Select is their only retailer and only publisher.
So when Amazon changes course, or makes a business decision, business 101 says that your business is controlled by these decisions.
The need to diversify income sources and suppliers is always a better business model. But in today’s ebook market, diversification is limited to only two aggregators, Smashwords and Draft2Digital, and a handful of retailers such as Apple, B&N and Kobo.
Using these avenues is called publishing wide. But for a healthy competitive ebook market, it is not nearly wide enough to help Indie authors in selling books.
If you write books and self-publish, you will know that Apple and Barnes & Noble are way behind Amazon in attracting ebook buyers.
Unfortunately, whatever the specific reasons are for the recent decline in indie author sales and income, the underlying cause is a lack of genuine competition.
Take the long-term view.
The factors at play are out of the control of indie authors. So the only logical answer is to be patient. You can try to ride out this current downturn and hope that it’s only a short-term glitch.
After many years of steady growth, there is no need to believe that the sky is falling on self-publishing. There are always plenty of people to buy books.
But there is good reason to believe that at present, someone, somewhere is playing with the marketing levers.
Update: Author Earnings has recently closed down its site. So it is now even more difficult to find accurate data about Amazon ebook sales.
Update: From the feedback I have received from many authors, the problem of falling ebook sales on Amazon seems to have started in April 2019.
More reading: My Books Aren’t Selling! – 10 Actions You Can Take
I started my working life as a lithographer and spent over 30 years in the printing and publishing business.
Originally from Australia, I moved to Switzerland 20 years ago. My days are spent teaching English, writing and wrestling with technology while enjoying my glorious view of Lake Geneva and the Alps.
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