Does blocking text-to-speech hurt sales?

I’m not happy with this post.

Oh, it’s not about the writing.  After all, I’ve only written eighteen words so far…make that twenty-four…twenty-five…drat!  ;)

It’s just that the facts didn’t come out the way I would have preferred.

I figured I would run a little analysis to see if blocking text-to-speech hurts sales.  I don’t buy them, and some people are boycotting Random House, the only publisher which has chosen to block it at this point.

My hypothesis: the average rank of a Kindle book (k-book) would be lower if text-to-speech was blocked.   I didn’t know if that was going to turn out to be true or not, but I wanted to test it.

I took the top twenty-five p-book (paperbook) bestsellers at Amazon that also had Kindle editions.  That list is updated every hour, so it’s pretty volatile. 

I had to get down to the 38th p-book seller before I had 25 that were also available in k-book.  The story would have been very different if I looked at New York Times bestsellers, of course.

Interestingly, some of them had much worse rankings as k-books.  The #38 p-book seller was #1215 in k-book.  Part of that is all the free and low-cost books on the k-book bestseller list.  The average rank of the p-books was 19: it was 140 in k-book.

Before we get down to the headline question, let’s talk price a bit.

Amazon discounts books…a lot.  I’m comparing here the Amazon prices.  If you bought all 25 books in p-book, it would cost you $321.77.  If you bought the same 25 books in k-book, it would cost you $251.64.

That’s a savings of $76.13.

Average price for p-book: $13.66.  Average price in k-book: $10.49.  That’s an average savings of $3.17 a book.

The prices in p-book ranged from $6.59 to $17.97.  The k-book prices: $6.59 to $16.50.

One Kindle book cost more than its paper equivalent (by seventy cents).  Four cost the same, and twenty were cheaper (savings ranged from twenty-three cents to $6.80).

Generally, k-books are cheaper than p-books (for the top 25 p-books that also have k-books), but not absolutely always.

Now, on to text-to-speech.   There are a number of factors at work here.  Random House (including its imprints) is the only publisher blocking text-to-speech, and they are one of the big dogs.  However, I’m not using that as an excuse: if a boycott was really being effective, I’d still expect to see an impact. 

Here’s the figure:

Average rank of books with text-to-speech blocked: 81

Average rank of books without text-to-speech blocked: 190

So, books with text-to-speech blocked did much better than books without it blocked.

Of course, there is no way to tell how many more they might have sold without it blocked.  They could even have sold fewer.

It’s a small sample.  It doesn’t isolate the variables. 

However, I’m not only going to write about things that help what I want. 

My guess is that it’s still bad business in the long run to block text-to-speech…but that wasn’t apparent when I did this analysis.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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4 Responses to “Does blocking text-to-speech hurt sales?”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Have you tried any any analysis since you posted this? I’d be interested to see if sales slow down any for existing ebooks as publishers turn off TTS. My guess is no. If every single person who has complained about this on line boycotted those publishers completely, I doubt it would make any difference to the publishers. We forget how big the *rest* of the world is, even for things with a big on-line presence like ebooks. And I doubt that anybody who *hasn’t* complained on line is doing anything.

    It’s frustrating, especially with Penguin (a HUGE loss) and now Simon & Schuster joining the ranks of blockers. Pretty soon, Amazon will have to stop advertising TTS as a feature at all, except for personal docs and independent books.

    Yes, it will eventually change, but I think it will be several years before the tide turns against the publishers. How long was it between the first Napster lawsuit and iTunes? And then how long before iTunes finally dropped DRM?

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Andrew!

      Yes, even though the online community is pretty active, it’s a tiny percentage of Kindle owners.

      I don’t know that it will take as long as for things to change as it has taken previously…because that history is out there. Everybody pays attention to history, right? ;) More seriously, though, it isn’t really parallel, to me. I think the traditional publishers (tradpubs) are going to dominate e-books…and that they know it. They do want to delay the day that e-books are the mainstream, but when they see that issue becoming an economic risk, I think they’ll switch quickly. Maybe not all of them…

      I haven’t re-run the text-to-speech analysis…might be worth doing.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Thanks for the reply!

    I think tradpubs are already moving to dominate ebooks, so yes, I agree with you there. But I think these aren’t just delaying tactics. They want (quite reasonably) to wring as much money as possible from the market and their plan is to exercise as much *control* over the market as possible. With a small number of big tradpubs and a small number of sales outlets and a small number of avenues for consumption, they can do that. And as long as the market continues to look like that, they will.

    What it will take to change it is not just ebooks becoming mainstream, but the market opening up. The tradpubs can bully Amazon and Apple, but they can’t bully dozens or hundreds (or thousands) of open source reading devices and programs. That’s what I think it will take to get back TTS – an alternative available to consumers that isn’t subject to the tradpubs’ control.

    That day will come, too. Consumers dislike DRM and dislike being tied to a specific platform or retailer. Getting to that point will take a lot more than just ebooks becoming mainstream, though. It isn’t inevitable, and it will probably take some folks hacking the existing DRM just like it did with music and movies. Unfortunately (Do I mean that?!), I suspect most of us Kindlers are more law-abiding than the average music-listener!

    That’s my prediction anyway!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Interesting points!

      Are readers less likely to hack than music listeners?

      My intuition is yes. Statistically, a lot of readers are older. I’m assuming that a lot of music listeners are younger…it would be interesting to see those stats. Hypothetically, older people are more invested in the status quo, and would (again, hypothetically), be more likely to follow the existing rules. There are many young people who would never hack or pirate, of course, and older people who would certainly do both. It wouldn’t surprise me if the trend is that readers are less likely to pirate than music listeners.

      As to the alternative publishing sources…I think those may grow fairly rapidly. One way they’ll do that is by offering things that the tradpubs don’t. When it looks like they are getting to big, the tradpubs can take that advantage away…by offering it themselves. A famous author with text-to-speech is more attractive than an unknown author with text-to-speech.

      One of Disney’s strategies is reportedly to look at where tourist dollars are going outside of Disney…and then take over that market. For example, in Florida, Disney supposedly saw that people were going to waterparks. So, Disney opened a waterpark. Waterpark+Disney>Waterpark without Disney.

      While tradbpubs=the well known authors, they’ve got a huge competitive advantage. The key to all of this is if people find other things more valuable than the familiarity of the authors.

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