Michael Cader on a ‘Really, Really Complex Marketplace’

On the final day of the 2016 Digital Book World Conference, Publisher’s Lunch Founder Michael Cader started the sessions by giving a brief overview of how the book publishing industry collects sales data.

The primary takeaway? There’s a lot of confusion, or, as Cader said, this industry has a “really, really complex marketplace.”

Moreover, there are some myths floating throughout the industry that Cader sought to dispute or complicate, including that, as Cader, framed it, “print is back,” “ebooks are dead,” “bookstores are back,” “Amazon’s publishing division failed” and “if only we could count self-publishing; ebooks are booming.”

The reason, Cader continued, that the marketplace is so complicated and nearly impossible to get a clear take on is that the three primary sources for sales data do not paint anywhere close to a full picture. What’s more, the sources are difficult to compare and contrast with one another, as they track different things in different ways.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) tracks print and digital, and numbers are reported by publishers. As Cader noted, we do not know what percentage of “the total landscape” these figures represent.

Nielsen Bookscan, on the other hand, only tracks print, and only from top accounts, and only in terms of units. In this regard, Bookscan represents the “inverse” of the AAP.

And PubTrack Digital only covers ebooks, and was originally started by Bowker, though is now run by Nielsen. These figures are delayed by three months and only account for unit sales, not dollars. As far as historical reference goes, the figures are great, but they are “not useful as a live data set.”

Looking at the numbers, Cader also noted that “the flattening of ebooks happened back in 2013,” so this trend that many observed in 2015 is not new.

The AAP ebook sales numbers are as follows:

• 2015 – $1.330-$1.360 billion (implied)
• 2014 – $1.518 billion
• 2013 – $1.449 billion
• 2012 – $1.483 billion
• 2011 – $1.045 billion

This slight dip in ebooks, Cader said, is balanced out in the market by a slight uptick in print sales. In 2014, according to Bookscan, print units were up 14.5 million units (an increase of 2.3 percent), and in 2015, print units were up 17.5 million units (an increase of 2.8 percent).

Numbers before 2014, Cader said, are inconsistent because Nielsen began factoring in sales from Wal-Mart in 2013.

Potential factors in the 2015 change in ebooks, according to Cader, include the decline of Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader, sales of which were down $68 million over the last four quarters, and the fact that the major return to agency pricing did not occur until September: when Penguin Random House shifted, September and October adult ebook sales were down 15 percent.

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