Books, Market Segmentation, and Sales Ramifications

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed an increasing trend with regard to the sales of my books.  When a book is initially released, it generally ranks much higher on the Amazon.com sales list than it does on the B&N.com list, and that ranking stays correspondingly higher for somewhere between one and two months after publication, and then plummets on the Amazon.com list.  This holds true whether the book is electronic, hardcover, or paperback, although the difference appears to be getting greater with regard to paperback sales of books more than three months past publication date. From what I can tell, the pricing policies don’t change in these time frames so that it can’t be that Amazon suddenly stops discounting after so many weeks or months or that B&N gives a greater discount for older books.

Although I haven’t the time to track the corresponding figures for other authors, I suspect that from my casual observations the same is generally true for most of them as well.

And, if so, what does it mean?

Put bluntly, it means that Amazon, as the cutting-edge on-line bookseller, appeals to a far larger proportion of readers who are more computer-innovation-invested and more interested in what’s “new” and that older, more stable Barnes and Noble appeals to, if you will, a  clientele somewhat less interested in instant gratification and computer glitz.

As a side note, I used the term “more computer-innovation-invested” advisedly, because there’s a tendency on the part of those who seek the latest computer and communications technology as soon as they become available to view those of us who only adopt new technology when it makes sense for our uses and needs as “out of touch” or “dinosaurs,” yet most of the difference is not whether those like me use newer technology, but when we adopt it and how much of it we find useful… and this is a different mindset that appears to be reflected in book-buying as well.

The problem with the approach taken by Amazon, especially with regard to bookselling, is that the appeal to the “I want it now” crowd tends to hype what is immediately identifiable as “popular,”  not to mention also increasing the sales of electronic books, especially those in Amazon’s Kindle format.  Because Amazon competes on price, this also has other ramifications.

Greater e-books sales at the expense of hardcovers, as I’ve noted previously, reduce hardcover sales, and such reduced sales result in lower hardcover revenues.  For Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer, the lower revenues don’t result in their not writing more books.  For hundreds, if not thousands, of midlist authors, it will and perhaps already has.  According to at least one large independent bookstore, some publishers have indicated that they will no longer even offer the books of some midlist authors in paperback format, only in hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats.   Because ebooks are not replacing paperback titles on anywhere close to a one-for-one basis, this will result in fewer and fewer midlist authors being able to support themselves on their writing income.

At the same time, scores of new ebook publishers are rushing titles into “print,” often at significantly lower prices… and I’ve seen enough of the works of these new ebook publishers already to observe that their content and technical presentation are, with very few exceptions, inferior to that of those soon-vanishing midlist authors of large publishers.  At the same time, I’m seeing these cheaper titles popping up on Amazon.

As it is, the electronic “revolution” has resulted in an erosion of grammar and style among supposedly literate individuals, to the point where the majority of graduates with advanced degrees are marginally literate.  The proliferation of lower quality ebooks isn’t going to be any help in improving that situation, to say the least, although it’s certainly likely to continue to swell Amazon’s profits and perhaps, after a suitable delay, those of Barnes & Noble as well.

And, after all, aren’t greater profits always paramount in this land of freedom and opportunity?

14 thoughts on “Books, Market Segmentation, and Sales Ramifications”

  1. J. Lee says:

    It’s interesting to read about the shift in market segmentation. I think one thing that has not yet fully emerged is the section of the population who are not “more computer-innovation-invested” but who are moving to e-readers. I have a friend whose mother had a stroke 5 years ago and essentially had to quit reading as she could no longer manage holding a book and turning pages. We scrounged many audio books for her but they have the requirement to change out cd’s – also a difficult task one handed. With the purchase of an e-reader she is now able to read again. (She chose the Kobo as it was the lightest one available and is easy to use one-handed.) As she has more time due to no longer working, she reads more.

    Another example is a friend’s father who has vision issues and difficulty with corrective lens. The discovery that an e-reader allowed font size changes to make reading easier was an instant sell. No longer did he have to wait for large format books from the library or fret that his favorite science fiction was not available in those formats. Both of these folks had stopped buying paperbacks as they couldn’t read them anymore. What they are doing now is buying e-books.

    The baby boom generation may be a market segment just discovering what e-readers and e-books can do for them. Of the people I know who have e-readers, the majority has shifted over the last year from the young techo-savvy types to the older folks who find that bit of technology is just what they needed. It will be interesting to see what impact this aging group has on the shift in book formats.

  2. Mayhem says:

    Interesting to see they no longer want to offer paperback books. When I shop, I seldom buy anything else, as I like to have all my books approximately the same size and shape so they fit on my increasingly overloaded bookshelves. Hardcovers are right out for my own collection, I feel they more suit public libraries and places where books get used and abused, rather than general purpose reading. Trade paperbacks tend to be the worst of both worlds, they have the size and weight of a hardback, without the longevity.

    Another factor would be resale value – on the secondhand market fiction hardbacks have a fraction of the value they originally sold for, while paperbacks are usually 50-60%. From friends working in that trade, hardbacks are simply not wanted by the majority of customers and very hard to move. Non-fiction is a different story, as they tend to be more … strategic purchases than impulse buys.

    As for ebooks, the main benefit I find to them is it lets me read at work while looking as if I am doing something else. That being said, the exposure from the broad range of books released by Baen electronically has meant that they have become pretty much the only publisher I will buy a physical book for sight unseen – I don’t buy books I haven’t read before, or at least read that author before. I hate spending money on something only to find I didn’t enjoy it, while a good book I will reread every few years with great contentment.

    1. It’s not that they want to give up paperbacks; they want to give up any paperbacks that don’t sell tens upon tens of thousands. We’ll still have the million-seller popcorn and thriller paperbacks, just not much else.

  3. jks9199 says:

    I’ve noticed over the last several years that it’s getting harder and harder to find “new” writers. Instead, everything is about established series or very established writers that people will buy because of the name.

    While I’d hope that e-books and the like would give a newer writer a shot since production costs are fractional compared to an actual publishing run, the reality is that it’s harder to look for them. I have to go to Amazon or wherever, and then figure out how to browse titles or flip into the book and see whether I like the writing.

    And that’s not even getting into the tactile/visceral feel of reading an actual book…

    1. Mayhem says:

      Thats actually one thing I really liked about the free Baen ebook collections. They would have the back catalogue of the main author, and then off to one side they would have a number of other titles that are in a similar vein to the first and that might be of interest.
      Sadly the collections have been a bit more static lately, focussing on the same main authors, but the Free Library has steadily increased and and is a great way to test the waters for a new authors writing style.

  4. Tim Warren says:

    I use B&N.com and Amazon. Amazon is much better at floating current books to the top and they are bad with books that are about a month old. Basically, the amazon search and referral engine is horrible, broken, etc.

    B&Ns is much better at presenting an entire category that includes both new and older books.

    It seems to me that differences are not on purpose but relects the impact of thoughtful design and layout put on B&N and lack there of on Amazon..

    Just my .50 cent

  5. Robert says:

    Most of my life I haven’t bought books new, mostly through used book stores. The last couple of years I haven’t been reading nearly as much as it has become too much of a hassle for me to scrounge around traveling from store to store looking for the books I want.

    Earlier this year when the ipad launched in Canada I was very excited to get one for a number of reasons including Amazon’s kindle service. It has become indispensable to me, and I now regularly read more than ever. In the last month I must have spent $40 on books, and a year ago that number would be very close to $0.

    There are certainly many ramifications of growing ebook usage, and I think one of them is an increase in the number of people buying and reading books again.

  6. How many hours do you spend on the blog every day?

    1. I spend 8-10 hours a week on the website, on average, either writing the blogs, moderating comments, or replying to comments when necessary.

  7. Miquel Imel says:

    Do you get paid to write this – or are you doing it for free?

    1. I do it to promote my books and the thoughts behind them.

  8. Interesting to see they no longer want to offer paperback books. When I shop, I seldom buy anything else, as I like to have all my books approximately the same size and shape so they fit on my increasingly overloaded bookshelves. Hardcovers are right out for my own collection, I feel they more suit public libraries and places where books get used and abused, rather than general purpose reading. Trade paperbacks tend to be the worst of both worlds, they have the size and weight of a hardback, without the longevity.

    Another factor would be resale value – on the secondhand market fiction hardbacks have a fraction of the value they originally sold for, while paperbacks are usually 50-60%. From friends working in that trade, hardbacks are simply not wanted by the majority of customers and very hard to move. Non-fiction is a different story, as they tend to be more … strategic purchases than impulse buys.

    As for ebooks, the main benefit I find to them is it lets me read at work while looking as if I am doing something else. That being said, the exposure from the broad range of books released by Baen electronically has meant that they have become pretty much the only publisher I will buy a physical book for sight unseen – I don’t buy books I haven’t read before, or at least read that author before. I hate spending money on something only to find I didn’t enjoy it, while a good book I will reread every few years with great contentment.

  9. Slackshot says:

    I’ve actually bought your books many many times; hardcover, Softcover, and E-book. Yes, nearly all of them; although I prefer the E-book format. Yes, I prefer Amazon, and I’d like to think that I am not a technocrat or some such, but since I’m a programmer by profession, I’d probably be lying.

    My real reason for preferring E-books lies in one main fact. I can take a word, that I remember reading, in a technical book, or even in fiction, then search. In a paperback, while the texture is reassuring; I can’t get this kind of functionality. Technical material, will have a table of contents or an index for me to use, by why use it when I know generally what I want to find?

    Perhaps I’m a victim of ADHD as one of your earlier posts; it’s quite possible. Really, how I want to feel about it, is that rather than keep vast amounts of data in my head; instead I use a kind of pointer system. If this is what I’m looking for, go here.. and see what the value is. I remember concepts, and purposes. To remember the foundations of so many things becomes difficult.

    After 7 years in the programming business, I’ve found that I cannot recall how much I’ve learned about any given industry I’ve worked for. I have to remember the concepts and not the absolutes, because when people want me to re-use knowledge from that industry, their own implementations might very well be different than my last company. After using the syntax of probably 7 different programming languages, I can work with all of them, but sometimes I’ll slip in a bad word or three; until I’m working with the language regularly. Same thing happened when I learned Serbian after learning Spanish in high school.

    In the IT industry, you can’t stay at a company for more than 2 years without a promotion before it technically looks “bad” on your resume. This mentality has lead to numerous 401k rollovers, and other annoyances.

    The way corporations work nowadays; really don’t lend themselves to keeping employees permanently. Sometimes, I’ve left larger companies for smaller ones or smaller companies for larger ones. Sometimes, I’ve left employment, because the hint of outsourcing was coming, sometimes because upper management was acting strange or associated with nepotism.

    Either way, my E-books, I’ve carried with me, on to my next positions. Having a technical library or even a fictional one, while waiting on something to be handled, or just while between meetings; can be very nice. I’d rather read and think than sit and stare.

  10. This site is great – thanks for all the scifi and fantasy info

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.