Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The latest monthly data from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), for January 2015, show ebook sales in slump.
Comprising just 20% of trade sales, digital formats clocked in at $100.3 million, down more than 10% to what Publishers Lunch notes is the lowest monthly sales figure since April 2012, when the AAP reported digital sales at $99.5 million.
Some suspect the progressive restoration of agency ebook pricing that began late last year is a likely culprit for the decline.
While that may turn out to be the case, the fact is it’s very difficult to tell.
Publishers Lunch, which tracks and analyzes the AAP figures each month, has noticed considerable variation in what participating publishers report month-to-month, as each successive report includes revised data from the corresponding month twelve months prior.
Which is just one of several reasons why the latest snapshot, as Michael Cader commented yesterday, “shows how far we still have to go in obtaining reliable, consistent basic statistical measures of what’s happening in even a portion of our marketplace.”
That thirst has spawned an array of data dashboards and other tools within organizations, but nothing has emerged from the industry that’s shown itself fully up to more difficult task of analyzing—freely and publicly—what’s actually going on among and outside them. As I wrote more than a year ago, the absence of truly comprehensive industry-wide sales data leaves “many in the publishing world…to rely on precedent, strategic gambles and gut instincts.” The latest guesswork around what’s behind this week’s AAP figures shows that’s largely still the case.
Don’t expect it to change now that the agency model has returned to the ebook market at four of the Big Five publishers, either.
It’s no secret that the shortage of retail data isn’t an accident but rather the result of tactical and deliberate business decisions made by the biggest retailers in the industry, Amazon chief among them. Yet at the same time (and frustrating as it may be for other players), the choice to keep that information proprietary is hard to begrudge a company that created the ebook market just about single-handedly.
What likely gets ever more difficult to swallow, though—at least from publishers’ perspectives—is that that circumstance shows few signs of changing even as the market cools off and the ink on new distribution contracts dries.
As several recent initiatives major publishers have undertaken suggest, the drive to explore new distribution channels is as strong as it’s ever been. And that’s a pretty good indicator that the power dynamics governing the retail landscape aren’t on the verge of a dramatic shake-up.
As long as that’s the case, the biggest retailers’ tight-fisted approach to data isn’t likely to loosen, even if ebook sales continue on the retreat they appear (if only appear) to have begun.