EBook sales accounted for $46.5 million as of the end of September, according to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), but that number only represents trade eBook sales through wholesale channels. Retail numbers may be as much as double these figures due to industry wholesale discounts, says IDPF. It's a drop in the bucket for book sales overall, which amounted to about $1.26 billion for the month of September, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP).
What's most astonishing, though, is that eBooks have sold like hotcakes without a marketing or sales strategy. Publishers are moving quick to catch up as new digital innovations come to market.
Brian O'Leary, founder of Magellan Media, a publishing industry consultancy, agrees that the approach to finding the eBookworms varies from publisher to publisher. For instance, he notes many of Hachette Book Group's titles have had simultaneous print, audio, and e-book versions that are marketed and sold using common campaigns.
But O'Leary suggests publishers such as HarperStudio would do well to take a page from the genre publisher's playbook. Though he's not advocating a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy, he notes that Harlequin has enjoyed much success by marketing short-form digital downloads for Nocturnal Bites separately, and recently announced the start of a digital-only imprint.
Indeed, Harlequin Enterprise Ltd.'s Brent Lewis, vice president of digital and Internet for Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., has been leading the strategic charge of Harlequin's digital publishing and marketing programs that now reach over 50 million readers in ebooks and digital audio, as well as on Harlequin's own site, in mobile distribution, and digital-only content.
While Harlequin has its finger on the (ahem) throbbing pulse of its readers, it will be interesting to see what strategies evolve at Random House when industry vet and ex-Amazon employee Madeline McIntosh assumes the newly created position of President, Sales, Operations, and Digital on December 1. Her appointment will "unify their physical and digital sales efforts for adult, children's, and international titles, distribution, publishing operations, IT, and corporate digital-publishing capabilities in an interconnected team,"according to a statement from Markus Dohle, Random House chairman and CEO.
They managed to pull out a blockbuster under current leadership. Crain's New York Business reported sales of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol sold 100,000 e-books its first week out, or about 5% of total sales for the book. September ebook sales at Random House (much of which are presumably The Lost Symbol) pulled in $22.6 million, which is a 700% increase over Kindle sales last year. While every month can't be a Dan Brown blow-out, a good marketing strategy to find and retain loyal readers will help shore up the revenue model.
O'Leary believes this too, will change. As publishers gain experience and sales grow, the cost of creating them will fall. "In the last year retail prices for e-books have been set lower than their print counterparts. If those lower prices stick, they will leave little room for retailer or publisher profitability under the traditional publishing model," he adds.
Yet Shatzkin wonders whether good marketing strategies and proper branding of digital books won't keep them from being cost prohibitive to the consumer. "There is plenty out there to read that's free. Will the public plunk down $25 for Ted Kennedy's eBook?" he asks, then responds, "I think it will take a while to answer that question."