Publisher Secrets: Startling New Statistics

Charles Darwin says shh

What are publishers saying behind our backs? I discovered some startling information from a little-noticed trade association meeting in New York City. The once-a-year meeting of the Book Industry Study Group took place on September 24 — and reading about their event felt like peeking into insider secrets.

What percentage of book sold are ebooks? 5.8%, one presenter announced (matching my own recent back-of-the-envelope calculation). And just 32% of Kindle owners are men, according to their statistics (from April to June of this year). Between January and March of 2009, they’d calculated that 42% of Kindle owners were men — suggesting that this year saw a huge surge in new Kindle purchases by women!

The statistics came from Kelly Gallagher, who’s the Vice President of publishing services at a publishing-industry reference publisher called Bowker. And he’d uncovered another strange anomaly: only 46% of the people who own Kindles and other digital readers actually purchased the device for themselves — while another 47% had received them as gifts. But the industry is definitely growing. He also reported that 44% of the people who are now buying ebooks only acquired their digital reader within the last six months…

In fact, the President of Kaplan Publishing announced results from a startling experiment. Last month they took 95 of their e-books — one-third of their total e-book catalog — and offered them for free for one week in Apple’s iBookstore. The results? Their downloads for that week were 25% of their total print sales for one year. Her conclusion: there’s a big untapped demand for ebooks. (My conclusion? People love free ebooks.)

Kelly Gallagher reached the same conclusion. “[R]eceiving e-books for free is one of the largest motivators for people to pick up and buy e-books,” he told the group, “whether it’s a sample chapter or another promotional approach.” But there’s more to learn besides that it’s easier to sell ebooks when they’re cheaper. The Kaplan publisher argued that there’s “a large population of readers who are almost our customers.” And Kelly’s actual slideshow of statistics turned up elsewhere on the web, showing that free promotional chapters are still what’s most likely to influence someone to buy an ebook — between 34% and 36% of respondents.

But I also learned something else: what the best-selling books were for each generation. For example, among readers born within the last 30 years, the top five best-selling books are all from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. And even if you’re between the ages of 31 and 42 (the so-called “generation X”), four of the top five best-selling books are still by Stephenie Meyers. (The non-Meyers book is Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.) For the “Baby Boom” generation — 43 to 61 — there’s just two Stephenie Meyer titles in the top five, plus The Lost Symbol, along with The Shack and Stephen King’s Under the Dome. And for people over the age of 61, the most popular books were The Lost Symbol and The Shack plus John Grisham’s The Associate, and then two political books — Glenn Beck’s Common Sense and Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.

But the most exciting part of the report was the closing keynote speech from the president of Ingram Content Group. He announced to the assembled audience that “the market for books is not fixed. I believe the whole publishing pie can grow.”

Here’s how his speech was covered by a publishing-industry news site called “Shelf Awareness”.


The print book will coexist with the digital book “for years” and will survive because of its “portability, flexibility and durability,” he maintained… ” Among other qualities, the book has “a limitless power source, can be read in the sun, can be read on a plane on the tarmac, looks good on the shelf,” and more. Many people “are like me and want it both ways,” Prichard said. “I love my iPad, but I still look forward to reading that relic of the past, the good, old-fashioned book.”

He concluded: “Let’s stop looking admiringly to the past, let’s stop handwringing about the present and let’s start creating the future.”

Click here to read their full report.

2 thoughts on “Publisher Secrets: Startling New Statistics

  1. I was just telling someone that I won’t buy a Kindle but I wouldn’t mind one as a gift so long as there were free titles available between times I’m willing to spend more money on an eBook than on a paperback.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *