Saturday, 27 August 2011

Are the markets for e-books and paperbacks different?

Saffina Desforges, Joe Konrath and numerous others, are proof it’s possible to make a living e-publishing.  But while there’s a lot of sound advice out there about marketing e-books, there’s still much to be learnt about the most effective way for writers to promote their work. So much so, that I believe it’s fair to say indie authors are still experimenting with what works and doesn’t with regard to e-book promotion.
Mark William’s recent review of the e-publishing blogs prompted me to wonder whether the readers of e-books are different from those who read paperbacks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there isn't any overlap between these two groups.  But Kristen Lamb’s blog (cited by Mark) made me ponder how people select books to buy, and whether this has implications for the format in which they’re read.
Specifically, Kristen asks whether by limiting ourselves to social networking, indie authors may only be communicating with a tiny slice of our potential market – those avid readers who are interested in books.  She points out that there are a huge number of people who don’t classify themselves as readers, but  nonetheless buy one or two books a year. As she notes, while this group buy few books, they are many in number, so are a potentially huge market. But do they read electronically, or are they exclusive paperback readers? I think the later is the case, and here’s my reasoning.
If you only read one or two books a year it's probably not worth buying an e-reader. It makes sense, however, for an avid reader to own one. Electronic books are generally cheaper and easier to get hold of than paper. What's more, there’s the growing range of exciting books that are only published electronically. These reasons, however, don’t stack up for the occasional reader who's unlikely to review the book blogs or buy on-line via one-click.

You can’t pick up an e-book (and probably never will be able to) in a supermarket, train station or airport, which is where I believe most occasional readers buy books. When placed by the checkout, cover facing outwards (something most authors can only dream about), paperbacks have the potential to attract their attention. E-books don’t. My guess is that avid readers who haven’t yet moved over to electronic formats will do so shortly, but the vast majority of occasional readers may never do so.

Traditional publishers – selling a limited range of blockbusters – will, for this reason, I believe continue to dominate the occasional-reader market.  Promoting their books in the aforementioned outlets, the death of the independent bookshop won’t affect their market, but they will lose a slice to the indie authors. So, despite Kristen’s observations, perhaps it makes sense for us to limit our marketing efforts to the small number of people who classify themselves as readers?


Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with you, people who only buy a handful of books a year are unlikely to buy an e-book without a name or commercial success attached to it. I think the idea of tapping the occasional reader market is a good one but not very practical at the present time.

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Jake Hardman said...

Thanks for posting on my blog Shellyerae. This seems to be a live issue at the moment. It will be interesting to see how the market develops.

BooksAndPals said...

I think you're on the right track, Jake.

As the industry changes, some of those occasional readers may also start reading e-books, but on other devices (tablet computer, smartphone, etc) even if they can't justify the cost of an e-reader. If that happens then there is some chance that you might sometimes make a sale to one of them due to things like Amazon's recommendation engines. This is actually an improvement for the non-bestselling author over the past, because once they are in the e-book ecosystem it becomes a possibility that didn't exist before. However, attempting to target them probably doesn't make sense, for the reasons you've outlined.

Michael R. Hicks said...

I'm not sure this is really an "either/or" situation with ebooks vs. print. Print on demand technology allows indie authors to make print books available to those who want them at a competitive price. The big gotcha is that no brick and mortar store (what few of them will be left except for independents and the little ones in airports, it seems) will carry them.

I also don't think there's any link between social networking and whether someone is an occasional or voracious reader, or whether they use an ereader or like dead tree books. Between Facebook and Twitter, I've got around 15,000 followers right now, and I can tell you they run the gamut.

Kristen made a good point about a frequent mistake that authors make, hanging out all the time with other authors. This is a necessary and valuable endeavor for sharing ideas and group motivation, but people have to put a limit on the time they spend doing that and spend it a) writing and, as Kirsten pointed out, b) reaching out to potential readers.

But I define my target market as folks who might like science fiction, horror, or thrillers. I don't care if they're occasional readers or not. Why? Because if they really like one of my books, they're likely to buy more. If they like the first book of a series, they're likely to buy the rest.

Genre distinction is also hazy, depending on your writing style. For example, my In Her Name sci-fi/fantasy series has elements of romance, adventure, and political intrigue, and a lot of folks who don't normally read sci-fi types of things have enjoyed it. That's not the case with everything, but is an example of how hard it is to really quantify things when it comes to books and readers who like them.

I also don't care if readers like ebooks or print, because all of my books are (or will be) available in both formats.

But I'll tell you flat out that I make a pittance from my print sales compared to what I make from ebooks, particularly the Kindle store. Formatting for print is my last priority when I'm getting a new title ready for launch, because while I might sell a total of 100 print copies of all books combined during the month, I'm now selling an average of well over 10,000 books a month through the Kindle store alone.

Jake Hardman said...

Great to have you drop by Michael. I know you’ve made huge progress in the e-book market, and your thoughts are based on hard-won experience. It seems to me that reaching out to readers, as opposed to other writers, is the difficult trick to pull off. I know you’ve posted on your site about the use of Twitter to do this. Do you have any other useful experiences you can share?