Statistics on Romance eBooks

We’re back to talking about the business of writing and publishing on Thursdays. I thought we might be done for a while, but an interesting post came across my feed on the weekend, and it’s well worth sharing.

If you’ve ever taken a course on statistics, or thought about them much, you’ll know that statistics can be used to “prove” just about anything. It depends what data you collect and which bits of it you choose to present. It can depend upon how the questions are asked, and it certainly depends upon who is asked the questions. One of the intriguing things that authors noted very early in the digital revolution was that the statistics about the publishing industry presented by traditional publishers and by media that typically reports on the publishing business didn’t seem to mirror the indie author’s experience. Many people began to wonder just what the truth was.

Neilson Bookscan, for example, is a service that publishers use which gathers point-of-sale data for individual books. The thing with Bookscan is that it tracks titles by ISBN#. All traditional publishers use ISBN#’s on all of their books, of course, and it is a unique identifier. BUT a publisher doesn’t need an ISBN# to publish a digital book to Amazon KDP, or to several other digital portals, and many indie authors (and some digital publishers) forgo the expense of getting an ISBN#. That means their books and the sales of those books aren’t included in Bookscan’s reports. That’s just one example of assumptions shaping results.

It was a few years ago when I first saw a presentation made by Hugh Howey, based on data he and a programmer friend (“Dataguy”) gathered from Amazon’s website. (I think it was at NINC in October 2012.) They developed a software program that walks the HTML of the website to gather the data behind rankings, which let them extrapolate sales numbers and trends in the marketplace. They also have their assumptions, so the data isn’t perfect, but I doubt it ever could be (without Amazon and the other sales portals actually sharing their sales data). Their results do provide another view of what’s happening in the book market. Last week, they made a presentation at RWA National about digital book sales of romance novels, which is pretty interesting.

A couple of take-aways for me:
• “The US digital market for romance novel is 235 million units per year.”

• “Amazon US sells 328,537 digital romance novels per day.”

• “67% of US romance sales are not tracked by any traditional industry metric.”

You can see a slideshow of their presentation on their website right here.

4 thoughts on “Statistics on Romance eBooks

    • Once upon a time, romance accounted for more than 50% of all fiction print book sales. It looks as if that pattern is continued in digital, if not increased. You used to hear sayings for bricks-and-mortar bookstores like “Romance pays the rent”. And the romance section was always at the back of the store, in the least visible real estate, because romance readers were the only customers who would walk as far as necessary to get their books. 🙂


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