December 5, 2013

A quarter of what? Confusing Amazon ebook sales stat released


The Guardian ran a misleading headline yesterday: “Amazon reveals quarter of ebook sales in US were for indie publishers.” The story was based on a tweet from during a trade presentation:

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Let’s be clear: this statistic is not about indie publishing sales. It refers to any books uploaded in 2012 using Kindle Direct Publishing. And it’s based on the top 100 books this week, not this year.

The quarter of sales they site here is referring to total sales, which gives us no information about the total revenue. Self-published titles are likely to be marked in a lower price range, beginning at ninety-nine cents. So while this is a great campaign to appeal to authors interested in self-publishing, there’s no information for authors about the bottom line.

In one sentence, the journalist suggests the number refers to sales from independent presses combined with self-published sales. “Though the term ‘indie’ is broad, covering everything from self-published authors to publishing houses that fall outside the big six, the news has been interpreted as a victory for the go-it-alone author.” But many independent publishers do not use KDP or CreateSpace to make their ebooks available through Amazon. So, without revenue being accounted for or a real sense of which major publishers are included (or excluded) it’s difficult to take much away from the claim that a quarter of Amazon’s top 100 books were “indie-published.”

Colin Robinson of Or Books warns readers to be skeptical of this statistic:

[Of Amazon’s top 100 books this week] “47 were from the big six publishers, 31 from other publishers I recognised, 21 from publishers I’ve never heard of, and one was definitely self-published. It’s possible that some of the publishers I’ve never heard of are in fact imprints set up by the author of the book but, especially as several appeared with books by more than one author (or at least one author’s name), it seems unlikely that more than a few are. Disney and Little Brown are doing great. So are joke books.”



Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.