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Friday, May 20, 2011

Figuring Out The Figures

I'm always suspicious when announcements are made without any actual concrete statistics being revealed, particularly ones used for comparison. I'm sure you remember the statement often attributed to Mark Twain that "figures never lie, but liars figure."

Amazon recently stated that they are now selling more ebooks than printed books.

I don't at all doubt that ebook sales are on the rise. They're still relatively new, and their popularity is growing.  After all, being still such a "young" part of the industry, they really have no other place to go but up.

However, whenever claims are made without being backed up by actual numbers, real statistics that aren't shadowed in hyperbole, I take it with a grain of salt -- because somewhere between the claim and the doubt lies the reality.

I chuckle when I think about listening to Neil Pasricha, the author of The Book of Awesome and The Book of Even More Awesome talk at an author luncheon this past Sunday at Canadian Booksellers Association National Conference. Neil's New York Times Bestselling book was born out of a blog he started one day in an attempt to just focus on one awesome thing each day.

When describing his first blog post and the response, he joked that when he checked his stats after releasing his observation to the world, that he got a single hit; his mother. The next day, his mother forwarded the link to his blog to his father, resulting in his hits doubling overnight.

Interesting how Neil used that as a joke, but could have hidden the actual numbers from us if he wanted to impress. But he wasn't there to impress. He was there to entertain and uplift - something he is a nature at doing.

Neil's self-deprecating joke drives it home, though.

I could use similar statistics hiding the real numbers to let you know that visits to my blog in the past two days are three times that of what they were the same day last month. (Hiding of course, that there were no fresh posts in the "like" period, which typically has an effect on hits, or other outside factors which might have led to a temporary increase in traffic.)

I can also look at ebook sales within the bricks and mortar bookstore I work at (yes, we offer an option to a limited number of digital titles - have done so, in various ways for well over a decade, BTW) and state that our revenues for ebook sales are easily ten times higher this year than the previous similar period - and, without revealing the numbers, I'm honestly quite impressed by the revenues appearing there - but at the same time, while a positive number to add to our bottom line, and one I whole-heartedly welcome, those revenues wouldn't keep the store open on their own; we still rely on physical sales of products through our physical location, that textbook unit and dollar sales are still the core of our business.

But back to Amazon's claim. Ebook sales surpass physical book sales by a certain value. And this time we're not talking about "free items" counting as books. Okay, cool. We're talking units, right? We're not talking actual dollars or revenues - given the lower average price point of ebooks, there's a lower profit for everyone involved. Surpassing won't replace in a solid business model unless the supporting revenues are there. I won't try to iron it all out because not all the statistics are being revealed - there's no way to proper analyse the data when you don't have access to all of it. Just sayin'.

Again, I'm not doubting it's working for Amazon - they're brilliant business people, after all - they wouldn't have gotten where they are today otherwise; and it's only natural for a "virtual" retailer with a huge market share and virtual presense to do really well selling a virtual/digital product. I'm just a bit leery of extrapolating beyond their own closed-numbers results.

Canadian author Jeff Buick's ONE CHILD - availabile in print, ebook & transmedia formats


And I'm not saying I don't believe that ebook sales are on the rise. Why do you think CBA announced partnerships with two Canadian ebook options - Enthrill and Transcontinental? It's to allow more bookstores across Canada access to a growing market.

I'm just curious at the actual numbers, the actual stats that will likely never be revealed, and, while impressed with what we're being told, take this recent press release with the proverbial grain of salt.

1 comment:

Crosby Kenyon said...

Marketing will always be marketing, and obviously there are different ways to go about it. Positive news-releases about e-book sales and the sales of e-readers would seem to be a fairly self-perpetuating model.