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“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, September 18, 2015

Calm down Everyone, it's only the End of the Ebook Boom

If you're an author watching your ebook sales and rankings, you've no doubt noticed the decline and may be wondering what happened. It all relates to the ebook boom and its subsequent collapse. In order for something to go down, first it had to be up. And ebook sales were up, up and up.

When Amazon came out with the Kindle, customers not only bought it like crazy but downloaded books in huge quantities to fill their new devices with reading material. This led to the ebook boom of 2009, and it lasted about 2 years before things changed. What happened?

In 2011 and 2012, ebooks were being published as fast as people could write them, everyone wanting to get in on the big money. In 2013, the ebook market had become highly competitive, with new titles still flooding Amazon while readers had become more discriminating.

As a result of these two converging elements, sales dropped considerably. Also, during this time, Netflix and Amazon Prime with their streaming of movies and TV shows were growing larger, their offerings expanding as more people began live streaming entertainment, a strong competitive force to books and reading.

In 2014 and 2015, publishers who rode the ebook wave from 2009- 2012 and invested unwisely began closing up shop. Many writers have become discouraged because they aren't seeing strong sales, when the promise was so sweet only a few years ago.

Being sensitive artistic types, we tend to take it personally, thinking it's our fault for not marketing enough or not writing well in the first place. Some blame the publisher for not promoting, or for a weak cover, wrong pricing or any number of mistakes they imagine were made.

Poor sales are not your fault, not the publisher's fault, not even Amazon's fault, although you'll see numerous complaints about what Amazon has done to hurt ebook sales.

Don't look for someone to blame. It's simply the nature of the book publishing business reflected in ebooks. In the time it takes to write and publish a few new books, this market went crash and burn. Both publishers and writers have felt the pain.

For a couple glorious years when ebooks were new, high sales fueled high investment, and people were making money. Those who in the past wouldn't have sold many books, like the self-published selling not very good books for .99, and small publishers who normally struggled to break even, were surprised and astounded to discover a gold mine with books on the Kindle.

But like all bubbles this one had to burst, and it has. About the only entity not feeling the pinch is dear old Amazon. Besides their highly profitable self-publishing services, Amazon is also a traditional publisher with a dozen imprints. No matter which way the coin falls, they're prepared to win big in the book industry.

In addition, they've consistently pushed for lower ebook prices. I can't fault this thinking. For a few dollars a month, people stream unlimited entertainment into their homes, creating very strong competition for books. This explains Amazon's Kindle Select program, which offers the consumer unlimited ebooks for a monthly fee, similar to Netflix for movies.

The current lull in ebook sales is due to very real reasons. A million new books a year! All while Kindle owners are jaded, swamped with promotional notices, and no longer downloading free or bargain books in huge numbers. Everyone has become much more discriminating with what they download to their devices.

The bubble has burst. I'm not happy about it but I accept it. What to do next?

Believe in your talent. Believe in your work. Believe in the joy of writing and reading. But be extremely realistic about book sales, and try not to get discouraged when they don't happen like you hoped.

Also, in such a competitive arena, now is no time to give up on marketing!

 For me, if I hear about a book on Kindle Unlimited that looks interesting, I'll download it since I'm a member. If it's not on Kindle Unlimited, probably not. KU has been a huge selling point for me as a reader.

What kinds of promotions do you feel work best as an author or as a reader?


  1. My wife has Prime and we do use that. But otherwise, I'm an iTunes junkie and prefer to get everything from them.
    My last book did really well, but overall, you're right. Sales have dipped a bit. It will be all right though.

  2. It was too good to last. Another thing I noticed was the lack of quality in the books. Just about anyone could get books out on ebook, and the writing wasn't always that good. Not to say there were some good books, but the bad outweighed the good.

    1. Susan, The lack of quality was what turned so many people off cheap ebooks and contributed to the decline of sales. It's a shame too.

  3. Plus every industry is going through major changes right now. My hope is that the change will weed out the weaker/untalented/derivative authors who really shouldn't be publishing, kind of like publishing Darwinism.

    1. Charly, It's definitely helped weed things out. At first all kinds of garbage was being published and sold at .99, and people were buying it just to stock their Kindles. I think there was an idea among readers that if it was on Amazon, it had to be good. Nobody thinks that anymore!

  4. That influx of so many books brought both good and bad books. The next swell, I suspect will be when the industry figures out a way to have those books edited/proof and formatted correctly. There are still books out there that are a giant paragraph! At least, Amazon is starting to combat that (when enough people complain about the formatting, they take it off the market).

  5. Southpaw, the 5 page books were in response to Kindle Unlimited, where royalties for pamphlet downloads equaled payment for a full length novel. Now Amazon pays per page read to fix that problem. I hope it does.

  6. Because I write for younger readers, I can vouch that the EBook boom never happened in that market.

  7. Interesting! I agree with what Mirka said above (and I'm going to have to check out her page!). Middle grade, chapter books, and picture books still hold strong in the paper-based book market. I think that's why publishers have shifted their efforts there. When you can get free e-books from self-published authors, why pay for them? That part of it sucks.

  8. I've read a number of articles recently where different stats about ebooks are quoted. They claim that the only lull in ebooks sales are with major publishers and select small presses. Indie writers and some small presses are still selling lots. It's tough to know what to believe. You can only trust your own experience.
    Susan Says

    1. Susan, And also good to remember that those who are making money off paid services will of course want to make it appear like self-publishing is still a very lucrative direction for writers. I'd say to consider the source when analyzing given statistics.

  9. Hi Karen - I guess what you state is the obvious ... as that's the way life is. I still think we need to go local as in local, or family as in large family ... I suspect I know someone who has one of those, and to our friends in this space ... and hope and expect that spreads the word. Also taking all opportunities and ideas going ...

    A series ready and up and running seems like a good idea .. then there's plenty of scope for more etc ...

    Cheers Hilary

  10. This is a fascinating post, Karen. I have not entered that world as a writer and not much as a reader (my husband likes to read on his device but I like to read in the tub so... ). To answer your question - I think the best kind of promotion is the kind you get by writing a kick-ass book - well written, true (whether fiction or non). I'm not saying that you don't have to hustle sales - I know you do BUT the best kind of promotion arises out of writing well.

  11. So, do you think print books will take over ebooks and be "up, up, up"? I prefer print books over Kindle, but I'm of the generation who had them for 35 years before giving into a Kindle.
    Very interesting post. I hadn't really noticed a decline, but I haven't put my book out there yet (hoping for early next year).

  12. This is such an interesting article. Being someone who reviews books, I receive most of my books for free, because people send them to me in the hopes it will boost their sales. As a writer, I have a few of my own books published, and knowing how saturated the market is with ebooks, I'm not at all surprised by the limited return I see on my work. Writing for the love of writing is the only way to go, which doesn't imply writing meaningless, foo-foo type work. You still have to do your homework, edit and and polish your pieces, but you can do it with a satisfaction that you've given it your best, and if you write it, they will read it. Who they are, I'm not quite sure sometimes, but I do know that there's an audience, and if being a writer was about getting famous and earning the big bucks, I'd have had to quit a long time ago.