Michelle had a schedule conflict, so she asked me to switch blogging duties with her this week. She’ll be posting tomorrow in my spot, but we should be back to normal next week–or to whatever masquerades as normal among Killzoners.
I am amazed and grateful and totally baffled at the thing that keeps on keeping on with my eBook sales. As I write this post on Wednesday evening, No Mercy continues to hold the #4 slot in Kindle sales, while Hostage Zero holds the #17 slot. That’s nine days in the top five and top fifty, respectively–much higher cotton than I have seen in a very long while. Making the deal even sweeter, I received an email yesterday from the folks from Books On Board, the world’s largest independent eBook retailer, informing me that Hostage Zero is the #3 bestseller there. That’s all wonderful. I even got a brief mention in the Wall Street Journal.
Here’s where it gets confusing: On amazon.com, the sales rankings for the print version of my books seem to be going the wrong way. Mind you, I have no idea how any of the rankings translate into real sales, but as I write this, the Hostage Zero sales ranking is well into five figures, while the print version of No Mercy sits at 2,896. (FYI, 2,896 in total sales means, according to the site, that it’s #72 in Books>Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction>Action & Adventure. How’s that for splitting hairs four times?)
My point is that there seems to be a disconnect between print popularity and eBook popularity on amazon.com. I have no idea why, but I suspect that the mean demographic of the eBook buyer/reader is significantly different than that of the hardcopy counterpart. I think that the marketing model between the two camps is entirely different. For example, among eBook community (of which I am an enthusiastic member), word of mouth buzz–the Holy Grail of book sales–is many times more efficient. You hear a rave review of a book that sounds interesting, and you have it in your hands with a couple of clicks of a mouse. Combine the buzz with a price point that allows readers to buy two eBook thrillers by a new-to-them author for less than the price of a single eBook by a franchise author, and a runaway critical mass is easier to achieve. From there, the author and publisher pray that the momentum becomes self-sustaining.
If my suspicions are correct that the marketing models between print and eBooks are dramatically different, I think it’s clear that the difference is one-way–that eBook readers are aware of what print readers are reading, but not necessarily the other way around. When you look at the Kindle Top 100, the vast majority of titles are bestsellers in their own right in the bricks-and-mortar world, and became eBook bestsellers as a matter of transferred momentum. Problem is, it’s difficult for that momentum to transfer the other way.
Think about it. In my recent travels, I was disappointed to discover that Hostage Zero and No Mercy were both absent from every airport bookstore I visited. The spaces where they might have been stocked were filled instead with the paperback versions of the hardcovers that occupied the same spots a year ago–and then, only if the hardcover predecessor made The List. Given the price per square foot of retail space, it makes sense that airport bookstores would dedicate real estate only to the surest sales. In order to ride the momentum of a runaway eBook, those stores would have to order new stock and take a new risk in an economic environment that punishes risk takers. Extrapolate that logic out to drug stores and grocery stores and all the other retail locations that used to be outlets for paperbacks, and I think it’s clear that the mass market original is a format on life support.
On the flip side, though, I think the market for $25 hardcovers is likewise pretty bleak. It’s the price, not the format. As it is, bestsellers are discounted down to $15 or less in the Big Box stores, a number that is feasible only because non-bestsellers are still sold at full price to offset the lost revenue. The print side of publishing seems to be creating a retail environment where bestseller prices are unsustainable, cheaper options are difficult to obtain, and full-price hardcovers will have an ever-shrinking market consisting only of people who are willing to shell out five times more than they need to for the same entertainment.
It’s a whole new world indeed. What do you all think? When you look into your personal crystal ball, what does the publishing world look like five years from now?