It’s good news and bad news for the publishing industry. The good news is that print revenue was up 3.4 percent in April, primarily in trade paperbacks, with some solid grown in young adult print and religious titles. The bad news is that revenue is down 4.3 percent year-to-date with a 7 percent loss in April compared to 2015. Further, ebook sales were down 22.7% compared to last year. In short, the publishers’ push towards paper is working but for all the wrong reasons.
Revenue is down in ebooks because Amazon, using their mercantile might, has been aggressively selling paperbacks and hardbacks after publishers took away their power to control ebook pricing. Now ebook prices are way up and print prices are way down, a situation that eats into the publishers’ physical distribution models and guts their ebook sales.
“Over the past few years the US e-book market has decreased by over 24% and print sales are on the rise. The primary reason for this is due to Amazon not being able to set the digital price anymore, the publishers are doing that,” wrote industry observer Michael Kozlowski. “This has led to an average increase of $5.00 per title and many people find that paying $15.00 for a Kindle book, is too expensive.”
Amazon, for its part, began attacking hardback pricing last August when it priced anticipated titles a few dollars above ebooks prices. One book came out last year with a “$12.70 Kindle edition paired with a $13.37 hardcover” on release day, a move that made little sense in the old way of doing business. In fact, publishers usually drove up release-day pricing to stratospheric levels thereby grabbing a nice boost as hot titles flew off the shelves. But because Amazon buys books wholesale it can price things however it wants without regard to the publishers wishes and because Amazon sells so many books nothing they can do or say can sway the ecommerce behemoth. In short, Amazon is causing revenue to fall month-to-month because it sells so many books.
Publishers got what they wanted: they wrested control over their ebooks from Amazon. But Amazon is faster, smarter, and more reckless than the Big 5 and is quite happy to ruin their business model to sell a few more copies – and force their hand. In the end, publishing is doing itself no favors by trying to beat their biggest distributor and the numbers are backing that up. These print blips, however small, are just that – blips – and when ebook pricing returns to sanity expect to see a lot more revenue from digital channels.