E-revolution hits the bestseller list

E-revolution hits the bestseller list

Amazon has told us that they sell more e-books than p-books (paperbook).  Yet, in the overall market, e-book sales aren’t at 20% (in the USA).

However, one key reason for that is that there are so many more p-books available.  The “long tail” is mostly p-books.

What about people who are buying current, popular books?  Are they embracing e-books?


The USA Today does a list (online) of the 150 bestsellers:

USA Best-Selling Books Database

Fortunately for analysis, they not only count e-books (the New York Times has said they will start doing that), they tell you in which format the book sold the most “copies”.  While you don’t know how many of a given title sold in which format, you can tell if more people (according to the reporting to the USA Today) bought the hardback, paperback, e-book, and so on.

I took a look at this week’s list, and there is some very interesting information there that suggests e-books are becoming the most popular format.

First, 43 of the top 150 sold more in e-book format.  That’s about 29%.  That’s a big chunk, but doesn’t say they are more popular, right?

Well, I ran the average position, based on rank.  A lower number is better…the number one bestseller sold more than the number two.  If the average position for e-books was at 75, it would be an even split. 

The number for e-books?  About 64.

Looking at the top ten?  Average position is 4.4 for e-books.

So, that show a relatively higher popularity.

As I started to run the numbers, I thought I would also look at how the Agency Model might be affecting things.  That was fascinating!

Twenty-eight out of the forty-three e-books on the bestseller list were not Agency Model…about 65% (close to two-thirds).

Are two-thirds of the e-books likely to get on the bestseller list Agency Model books?  That seems very unlikely to be the case…five out of the six biggest US trade publishers are using the Agency Model.  While the non-Agency Model publisher (Random House) is definitely a big dog, it probably isn’t bigger than the other five put together!

The average rank of a non-Agency Model e-book on the list? 58.

The average rank of an Agency Model e-book on the list? 75.

It appears that being an Agency Model e-book hurts your sales for popular books.

There was another very important point.

Six of the e-books on the list were independently published! 

Due to a largely closed system in providing paperbooks to brick-and-mortar stores (I’m a former bookstore manager), it would be very, very hard to get an independently published p-book on the bestseller list.

Okay, they are all by Amanda Hocking.  Regardless, that’s amazing.  The highest ranked one, Switched (the first book in the Trylle Trilogy), is #16! 

Hocking is on the tweeting edge of the literary revolution, showing that she doesn’t need a traditional publisher to reach a wide and dedicated audience.  She is the face of publishing’s evolution.

Amanda Hocking’s blog

That’s not to say that all future authors will have to love Red Bull and play guitar (although Hocking does both).

Jane Austen is a bestseller in e-book.  Stephen King’s current bestseller on the list is selling more in e-book than in p-book.

Still, Hocking represents a model for the future…one that doesn’t involve a traditional publisher…or an agency, for that matter.

Here’s the list of books for which the e-book was the most popular format on the USA Today bestseller list for this week:

Rank Date Entered Publisher Agency
2 9/25/2008 Random House No
3 8/8/2009 Random House No
4 11/25/2010 Random House No
6 6/3/2010 Random House No
7 1/6/2011 Workman No
13 9/10/2009 Scholastic No
14 1/6/2011 Random House No
15 9/2/2010 Scholastic No
16 2/10/2011 Indie No
19 10/28/2010 Random House No
24 2/10/2011 Indie No
25 5/28/2009 Penguin Yes
31 2/3/2011 Indie No
33 1/6/2011 Random House No
34 1/27/2011 Random House No
38 1/13/2011 HarperCollins Yes
42 9/23/2010 Hachette Yes
43 12/16/2010 Random House No
46 2/10/2011 HarperCollins Yes
53 1/27/2011 Random House No
59 11/25/2010 Hachette Yes
62 2/10/2011 Simon & Schuster Yes
68 2/10/2011 Penguin Yes
70 2/11/2011 Random House No
73 1/6/2011 Random House No
74 2/10/2011 Macmillan Yes
75 1/6/2011 Penguin Yes
78 9/23/2010 Hachette Yes
79 1/20/2011 Penguin Yes
81 2/10/2011 Indie No
92 1/6/2011 Baker No
95 4/8/2010 Random House No
96 12/18/1997 Random House No
105 11/18/2010 Hachette Yes
108 5/13/2010 HarperCollins Yes
114 2/10/2011 Samhain No
117 7/15/1999 Random House No
133 2/10/2011 Indie No
137 1/20/2005 Random House No
143 2/10/2011 Random House No
145 1/20/2011 Simon & Schuster Yes
146 2/10/2011 Indie No
147 11/18/2010 Simon & Schuster Yes

I rolled the imprints into the publisher, to make looking at it easier.

Thanks to USA Today for providing this information! 

What do you think?  Am I placing too much emphasis on the average ranking?  Is Amanda Hocking a fluke?  Does this portend the end of the Agency Model in April?  Feel free to leave a comment…

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


5 Responses to “E-revolution hits the bestseller list”

  1. willem Says:

    If I had to guess I would say that there is almost no chance of the agency model being abandoned. It was adopted because of a power struggle, and having wrested such powers from Amazon publishers will never relinquish them, especially as I suspect that many of them now see Amazon as an outright enemy.

    Anyway the real problem is pricing and not agency. The vast majority of customers do not give a fig about retailer models. The agency five are simply pricing their books too high. Expect prices to start dropping in the latter quarters of this year especially once Borders goes to that great bookstore heaven in the sky.

    As for independents…Well Hocking is doing great and so are some others, but the question remains, compared to what? Producing a couple of great lotto winners does not mean playing the lotto is a percentage winner. What is the actual percentage of Indies being successful as opposed to the great mass of losers? Without some way of measuring that the Indie boosters sound like my cousin’s chatter about his great odds at winning that lotto ticket, given that he heard from a vague associate whose second uncle had a friend who hit the jackpot!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, willem!

      I do think the concept of that power was seductive. However, I also think that the publishers were convinced that iBooks would be a big source of sales for them…that it would be a solid distribution channel that hadn’t existed. I’m sure they were told (the Agency Model was almost certainly proposed to them by Apple) that iBooks would be a huge market force like iTunes: they wouldn’t need Amazon in the same way.

      That didn’t happen.

      I’m a former retailer, and I say that to reveal any prejudice I might have on this. However, pricing for consumers is hard…and I don’t think the publishers are doing it all that well. I’m not even going to say that the prices are too high, just that they are wrong. The profit comes from the “big tail”, the backlist…that may be where they have more problems. The publishers either have to learn how to do it or hire people who know how. That’s an effort (and effort equals expense in business) they might not find worth it.

      The probable (but not inevitable) loss of Borders brick-and-mortar should hypothetically raise prices, I would think. Less competition doesn’t typically mean lower prices.

      Prices may drop later this year: we’ll see. 🙂 I think there is a pretty good chance the Agency Model is dropped, and that would likely affect it. I think the Agency 5’s love affair with the Agency Model is quite fragile…they aren’t quite sure it is going to work out. 🙂 If the threat of legal action continues to grow (we are seeing it in England from the Office of Fair Trading…and having multiple systems, one in the UK and one in the USA, is harder and more expensive), it may not be worth it to them.

      The other reason I see for it dropping is the diminishing importance of paperbooks. Publishers were worried about “price value perception devaluation”…people thinking a new novel (in whatever format) should cost less, because they see ads for $9.99.

      With independents like Amanda Hocking, the first comparison for me is to independent paper publishing…which could never make much happen in the US.

      Dune wasn’t published through a traditional fiction publisher, but still went through an established publisher with bookstore contacts…Chilton, best-known for auto manuals. Stores already had Chilton books when they got Dune.

      Independent electronic publishing doesn’t have that closed system of distribution.

      The other comparison is independent electronic publishing versus tradpub (traditional publisher) electronic publishing. Yes, the number of “winners” is going to be small…but the lottery you had to win before was getting a publisher to choose your book. I think the odds of making a few dollars on your independently published novel is much higher than the odds of having it chosen in the past.

      Many authors don’t write with the intent to live off their writing. They write because they want people to read them…or because they want to say something, whether or not people listen.

      Let’s take 1,000 people who are authors. Under tradpubs, let’s say one of them gets chosen, and the book sells ten thousand copies at $9.99. That would be a successful book, by the way. The other 999? The book never got sold to the public at all.

      Now, let’s take independent publishing. All 1,000 of the authors put their books out there. That one that would have sold 10,000 sells…2000. I’m willing to say the tradpub resulted in five times the number of sales.

      The other 999? Let’s say they average ten “copies” a piece. A couple of them sell one hundred, a bunch sell ones and twos. That still comes out with more total sales, a bigger share of the market, for the indies than from the tradpubs. That’s worrisome for the tradpubs.

      The other things, which I’ve said before, is that I think “Old media sells paperbooks, new media sells e-books.” Hocking is a great example of that.

      Many people who buy a lottery ticket do it for fun, not as an investment…same thing with authors independently e-publishing. 🙂

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment! We’ll know in a few months what happens with the Agency Model…you could certainly be right. 🙂

  2. willem Says:

    The agency title might be abandoned though!

  3. willem Says:

    With the disappearance of Borders – and B&N giving more floor space to nonbook items – the real power of traditional publishers diminish. That power was one of scale, ie putting a book in as many physical stores as possible. That power is going to diminish year on year. That leaves them to try to make a success at digital. Frankly it would not surprise me to see a price war breaking out by 2012 at the latest between the agency five as they scramble for digital market share.

    Notice that Smashwords went agency with hardly a murmur. Why? They had dirt cheap pricing to start with.

    Without legal intervention publishers will not handover their powers, not least because they fear retailers (read Amazon) will disintermediate and supplant them. Frankly it appears to have been the intention all along by Bezos. Use the Kindle to push the struggling bookstore chains over a cliff thus drastically weakening traditional publishers leaving them helpless when Amazon starts to move on to their territory.

    For the publishers it is therefore seen as a matter of survival. (Random House is acting here as what is known in the literature as a free rider).

  4. USA Today bestsellers: are e-books taking over? « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] E-Revolution Hits the Bestseller List […]

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