[Ed.: Commenters have noted how hard it can be to get a handle on the current state of ebook sales from the shifting and volatile information available to us. Digital Book World is pleased to offer weekly reports from Dan Lubart’s eBook MarketView, to help us see what stories the actual data has to tell. Using a proprietary market analysis tool, Dan pairs publicly available data from multiple ebook retailer bestseller lists with analysis and visual presentation to help publishers identify and understand emerging patterns.]
If following ebook bestsellers is like announcing a horse race, then independent, self-published titles had the inside track early in 2011. The “agency-model” publishers’ share of the Kindle bestseller list from December 2010 into February 2011 declined steadily; the Nook list’s agency share held more or less firm after an initial January drop.
That early start, if it continued, would have been bad news for mainstream publishers; with individual titles, visibility on bestseller lists is critical for sustained sales. But since mid-April, agency-model publishers’ share of both lists has held steady, even improving for short intervals, indicating that we may have reached a stable point for now.
In this first chart, the most glaring feature that stood out early was the rapid decline of this share on Kindle in December into early January. Note: The Kindle share includes Random House even before March 1 to provide consistency.
But the story is much different on the Romance genre bestseller lists. Since March 1, 2011, there has been a pronounced shift on both retailers’ Romance lists away from agency titles. Looking at the second chart, you can see that the average combined share of both lists for all agency publishers is halved, from roughly 30 to 15 titles in this period.
This drop may be mostly explained by the rise in the average price of agency titles on this list, including but not limited to Random House’s changes after March 1. One item of note is that Harlequin (not an agency-model publisher) has also slowly lost share of the list as its average price climbed over the past few weeks. It is difficult to determine exactly, but self-published titles may account for up to half of the Romance bestseller list on Kindle today where exactly 50 of the 100 titles on the list are priced below $3 for an overall average price of $4.15 (as compared to 35 on the bestseller list; overall average price of $7.17).
As we round the first turn, then, it looks as if the agency-model titles on general bestseller lists are finding their equilibrium. In addition, buyers seem fairly insensitive to certain price gaps and are even willing to pay premium prices. Meanwhile, Romance is continuing to reward inexpensive titles with success, and it becomes increasingly challenging for premium titles to succeed there.
Dan Lubart is the principal at Iobyte Solutions, an IT strategy firm with a specialty in publishing and entertainment media. Iobyte’s eBook MarketView tool enables publishers, authors, agents and others to study the dynamics of the ebook retail marketplace in various ways. Dan blogs at eBook MarketView.