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now as a percentage of the US market, but there’s not really much to gain by that since even an accurate guess will be out-of-date in a few months.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.