Merry Kindle Christmas and the blip that came to stay

Early this year there was a blip in US book sales that surprised almost everyone. E-book sales in January not only more than doubled e-book sales from the previous January, they grossed more than hardbacks for the first time. It might have looked like a sea change, but it turned out to be a blip, albeit a big, fat blip that isn’t going away (already I’m imagining it on my sofa, watching the cricket, eating its third bag of chips, dominating conversation and shouting out for more beer). It didn’t take too much to work out what was behind it.

The preceding Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales, Christmas and other seasonal giving in the US had seen keen readers in their thousands (tens or hundreds of thousands) given e-readers, and in January they got on line like virtual Vikings plundering content (okay, maybe not so much like Vikings – they did mostly pay when asked to).

The blip flattened out after that. Well, not quite flattened out, but it dropped back from its peak, so that e-book sales sat at a higher baseline than ever before – a baseline from which they, as we all know, subsequently rose, though in a less dramatic fashion. I was about to guesstimate where they are now as a percentage of the US market, but there’s not really much to gain by that since even an accurate guess will be out-of-date in a few months. Suffice to say that better number crunchers than I are predicting annual e-book sales to top $10 billion by 2016.

But let me keep my speculation seasonal. Keep your eyes open in the coming months, and my bet is that you’ll see that the blip is back. Welcome to the second Kindle Christmas. I know, I know – Kindles have been around for a while, but some time was lost on the way to e-readers becoming normal. They’re normal now, and 2010 might be the year they got there. Many avid yet non-tech-loving readers have them, and we have more devices than ever that allow for a pleasant reading experience.

I’m guessing that last year’s US holiday Kindle surge (iPad surge, Kobo surge) might be the first of around three that we’ll see, and this year might even be bigger than last. So, watch for the January sales figures a few months from now and I think you’ll see a lot of content-hoovering as book-loving newbie Kindlers set sail with empty devices, a passion to fill them and a sudden realisation of exactly how much bang for their buck they’re going to get.

I think it’s likely the blip will be back a third time in Jan 2013, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, after that, the market penetration of e-readers is high enough year round to erase blippage and produce a more steadily rising line.

But while there’s a blip, I want to be on it, or at least I want to have a chance. I missed last year, but I’m determined not to miss out this time around. Some of my Australian editions have been released as e-books for Australia and New Zealand only, so it’s not as though I don’t have e-books anywhere. But the market here is smaller, prices are less competitive (I’ve written about that before) and we don’t seem to be up to making blips here yet.

So here’s what I’m doing. Starting as of today, in Amazon’s Kindle Store and elsewhere, I’ll be releasing material (some backlist and some brand new) in the world outside Australia and New Zealand in a range of e-book formats through a Pittsburgh-based outfit called Exciting Press. We’ll be selling novels for $4.99, novellas (10-30,000 words) for $2.99 and short stories for 99c each. I’m seeing this as my own little bookshop on the internet and, yes, there will be opening specials (or at least an opening special). With every Monica Bloom novel, there’s a free e-original novella called Grass Valley.

I have no idea if this’ll work, no idea of how many people might find me in the vastness of web-based book retail and no idea how many might be inclined to click my buying buttons. But I’m not going to grow old (older) wondering why I didn’t at least give it a shot.

Good luck to everyone else who’s doing the same.

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10 Responses to Merry Kindle Christmas and the blip that came to stay

  1. Sally Odgers says:

    How do you get along with your contracts on that, Nick? I’ve held back because I suspect my contracts with publishers prevent me from doing it.

    • nickearls says:

      It took a bit of sorting out, and it’s not all sorted out yet. I’m still waiting for a couple of reversions four months after my agent first asked the relevant US publisher. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had no choice but to sign up e-book rights quite a few years ago (as part of standard publishing contacts), though in these cases no e-books eventuated – the p-books had slipped from view before e-books were a genuinely commercial concern. I’m hoping to have it sorted out soon so that we can do those books too.

  2. Stella Orbit says:

    Excellent news! I finally bought my Kindle and one for my partner in crime.
    I have deliberated for a long while now. Would it be the same? Isn’t it better to have books? What about all the books we already have? Where are we going to keep new books? All those trees!

    It was only when I contrasted the enormous hardback copy of 1Q84 with the tiny tiny Kindle did it all make sense. After all, that hardback sucker could kill me in the night if I went to sleep reading it.

    Off I go right now to buy your ‘latest’ releases.

    • nickearls says:

      If I ever see you with a Kindle-shaped dent in your head, I’ll know what happened. And at least you’ll be alive.

  3. I haven’t got an e-book as yet & doubt I’ll go down that road for a few years to come as I love the feel of turning the page, the page in between my fingers. I would also say the smell but wont as I can’t smell my sense of that is gone

    Even when I do get one it will only be used when I go away on holidays it will save me lugging a case around with just books in it for me to read but when at home plus out & about locally it will still be a paperback or hardcover book for me.

    I wish all the best in your ebook adventure but please don’t forget there are some of us who still like real books to hold & read.

    I did have a chat about this with someone else on twitter but don’t know if you got to see it as although I follow you, you wouldn’t see my tweets as my account is locked & you need to follow me to see my tweets you would have enjoyed the chat.

    (((( Hugs )))) XXXX Kisses XXXX

    • nickearls says:

      I have to confess I don’t have an e-reading device yet either. I have a two-year-old son and he gets most of the time that used to be reading time (and some of the rest is conceded to exhaustion). I buy/receive more paper books than I have the time to read, but once that changes I’m open to getting an e-reader. Plenty of my avid reader friends have them and once they have them there seems to be no going back.

      I want to publish my work on paper for as long as people will provide the paper to print it on. That includes shorter works such as short stories and novellas, though in collections rather than by themselves (they’re easier to sell individually as e-books). As a reader of paper, I won’t forget readers of paper – I just need them not to forget me (and other authors) as well. Publishers will keep publishing paper books as long as they think they can sell them, and they’ll think that as long as people are buying them. The problem is, sales of paper books seem to be be sliding across the board.

      For that reason, but also for the more positive reason that there are now a lot people with e-readers, it makes sense for authors to cover all the bases they can, I think.

      I did see bits of the chat, but noticed you were locked, so it was a bit like eavesdropping on one end of a phone call. Thanks for dropping in here and saying something too.

  4. Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing this (I’m a little late to get to the reading!), it’s interesting to hear how authors are dealing with this whole new world. I admire your sense of urgency in getting on to ‘the blip’, if anything it’s that drive that’s going to get you to the right place. I hope you made it for January! I have to say, three quarters of people I know probably either bought themselves or someone they know an ebook reader for Christmas or on the sales, so if that’s happening globablly then it’s obvious where the market is headed!

    As much as I love paper books, it’s all an expense decision for me. I have a feeling that having an ebook reader would make purchasing the books cheaper over all…but buying the ebook reader is quite the expense too! I guess for now it’s back to the free world (until I get overdue fines and have to wait for that canned food amnesty…) of the library for me!

  5. Rabagast says:

    Excellent news!
    As a Kindle owner, and an old fan of your work, this works perfect for me.
    Living in Norway, getting “Earls’ latest” at the bookshop is a Mission: impossible.
    Now, I’ve stocke up my Mindle with your short stories and other stuff I’ve missed.
    Looking forward to the new novel 🙂

    • nickearls says:

      Thank you. There’s every chance you’re the first person from Norway to track me down in the Kindle Store, and I’m very glad you have. I’ll be aiming to put a lot more there in the months ahead – short stories, novellas and novels of various kinds (well, not too various, but work across some kind of range at least). In fact, my publisher is coding a novel for release next week. Would you like me to send you a copy? I think my first customer from every country should get something for free.

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