The Amazon ebook market isn't the only place for reaching readers as a self-published author
(This article was updated in December 2019 with recent data. Note that most of the 2017 data included in this article was based on AuthorEarnings.com, which has become BookStat, so some links have been removed.)
When it comes to publishing and selling ebooks, Amazon is the first thing many people think of. Obviously, Amazon’s market share is significant in the world of selling ebooks.
However, when looking at global ebook publishing, doors keep opening to new stores and business models. And as an indie publisher, it’s your job to explore them. (You can read more about the different business models here.)
Exploring other opportunities will make your ebook publishing efforts more profitable in the long run – you simply can’t rely on one big distributor. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? (Learn more about staying exclusive to Amazon vs. distributing wide).
It may surprise you how many potential readers and potential earnings you may lose if you publish only on the Amazon ebook market. Take a look at our numbers below, and you’ll understand why you shouldn’t be selling ebooks on Amazon only. The Amazon market share is just a piece of the pie.
This article starts with an in-depth analysis of our recent sales numbers, then we introduce the recent Author Earnings Report to understand how ebook sales work in the US, UK and in emerging markets. We close with some interesting facts on the Kindle app and Kindle reader market share.
Amazon Market Share Findings: An Analysis of Amazon Ebook Sales Through PublishDrive
If you’ve considered selling ebooks on Amazon, then you might be wondering: “What percentage of the book market does Amazon have?” and “Who are Amazon's competitors?” We explored the answers to these questions by taking a look at PublishDrive’s data for the past few years. Let’s dig in:
Amazon Ebook Market Share 2017
PublishDrive analyzed the sales numbers of publishers signed up and found that in the case of English titles, only 39% of the sales volume came from the Amazon ebook market (2017 first 3 quarters).
It is obviously a huge amount, but still, if you are selling ebooks on Amazon exclusively through KDP Select, you may lose 61% of your potential readers and sales. You may earn more money in stores and markets that you never even thought were suitable for your target group.
Only 39%? But how? Because:
- we have many new channels integrated for English language books (even in emerging markets)
- we offer merchandising options for many stores
- our operations show if there is any discrepancy of your books being available in stores
- you can see your real time sales so you can refocus your marketing efforts if necessary
But as you might know, the self-publishing landscape changes every day. Let’s see how the data shifted in the years following 2017:
Amazon Ebook Market Share 2018
When looking at Amazon market share data in 2018, the numbers stayed the same. Again, we can see that a large portion of the ebook market includes non-Amazon retailers. During 2018, PublishDrive also added DangDang to our distribution network, allowing indie authors to reach the rapidly growing Chinese ebook market.
When looking at the data, don’t forget that these sales figures also include the library market, not just traditional online retail sales. Library distribution is another non-Amazon segment of the market that provides boosted discoverability and great royalty rates. In 2018, Bibliotheca joined PublishDrive’s growing list of library service providers, giving authors another path to libraries worldwide.
Amazon Ebook Market Share 2019
When analyzing the ebook market share in 2019, the data changed a bit.
We can see that sales for Amazon ebooks through PublishDrive jumped by 8%, from 39% in 2018 to 47% in 2019. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the data shifted, but with 53% of sales occurring in non-Amazon sales channels, it’s still clear that Amazon shouldn’t be your only priority as an indie author.
Every year, more and more opportunities appear for authors to monetize their work in other markets. For instance, in 2019 PublishDrive introduced the Dreame reading app to our distribution network. This exciting new app uses a pay-per-episode model, where readers pay to unlock 1000-word “episodes” of ebooks.
Now that Kindle Unlimited/KDP Select isn’t the only reading subscription service that authors can choose from, it will be interesting to see how apps like Dreame and other innovations will affect the ebook market going forward.
In the following, we will present statistics on the general US and UK market and introduce some emerging ebook markets: Russia, Brazil and China.
The US Ebook Market
Based on data collected by the authorearnings.com, Amazon is the biggest player in the US. Including indie books (published without ISBN), the Amazon market share accounts for 83% of US ebook purchases – and the rest is almost entirely shared between Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo US and Google Play Books.
(Source of picture: authorearnings.com)
But how big is the US market? The Author Earnings reports that in January 2016, there were around a million paid ebook downloads daily from the Amazon US store only – and if we can believe the trends, this number continues to grow.
It’s also remarkable that while the share of the traditional publishing houses falls, the indie market grows: individual authors sell more ebooks daily on Amazon than the publishers with ISBNs combined. (This fall may be partly due to publishers artificially keeping the prices high). Indie ebooks (including single author sales) account for around 40% of total US ebook sales until February 2017.
It’s interesting to note that last year in the US, Kindle Unlimited was only responsible for 12% of independent authors’ income. In the US, this is almost equivalent with income from all non-Amazon sales channels. In other words, the moment you’d like to distribute your book outside of the US and UK, the balance is tilted.
(Source of image: authorearnings.com)
These sales numbers are not so surprising if we take into account that Amazon lets publishers set the prices. As a result, customers are drawn to the lower prices provided by indie publishers.
There is little data available about indie sales outside of Amazon in the US. But as most online shops provide flexibility, many authors are selling ebooks on Amazon exclusively for some titles, and the rest everywhere else. They’re also changing platforms as often as every three months. As we mentioned in our article about pricing strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
The UK Ebook Market
Being the second largest ebook market (accounting for 15% of all English language ebook sales worldwide in 2017), the situation in the UK is just as interesting as in the US. Ebooks account for 34% of all book sales, with the Amazon market share being the biggest yet again. Amazon.co.uk dominates about 87.9% of the sales in this market.
The only unfortunate point being the 20% VAT applied to ebooks in the UK (which is not applied on print): last year people spent an astonishing $405 million USD on ebooks, 82.8% of it on Amazon.
The Global Ebook Report points out that in 2013, every fourth book bought in the UK was an ebook. This growing trend is even more striking if we only consider adult fiction: 40% of the book purchases were digital. The UK book market also works for exports, targeting not only the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Ireland, but also Southeast Asia and China.
Canada, Australia and New Zealand Ebook Markets
Canada, Australia and New Zealand are still big players in the English language ebook market, but they are nowhere close to the US or the UK when it comes to ebook sales. New Zealand, however, does not have a country specific Amazon store: its sales are added to the US numbers.
Looking at the Canadian and Australian markets, Amazon’s market share is already shrinking compared to the US and UK: only 57.2% in Canada and 60.6% in Australia. Not surprisingly, Rakuten Kobo has almost 25% of the Canadian market, with 14.4% going to Apple Books.
Emerging Ebook Markets
There is nothing wrong with prioritizing the US market, since it's the biggest. However, you are making a mistake if you're not considering the other large and emerging markets.
According to the Global Ebook Report, in 2014 the US had the largest publishing market in the world, by 26%; followed by China (12%) and Germany (8%). The top 6 by value also includes Japan, France and the UK; the rest of the world has a share of 39%. (Note that these percentages include print as well.) This is a pretty impressive number: who would want to miss out on over 40% of the potential sales?
Since the economic crisis has affected most of the book markets in Europe, most countries have only started a transition towards ebooks in the last couple of years. In the following, we’ll talk about ebook sales in Russia, Brazil and China, based on findings laid out in the Global Ebook Report.
70% of Russian readers read ebooks – and 92% of these readers admit to getting their books “from the internet”, for free. The Russian book market has seen a couple of troublesome years recently with sales decreasing and big publishing chains closing down. However, reading is still really popular and writers and intellectuals occupy a prominent public role – points out the Global Ebook Report.
As online piracy in Russia is still legal (with some considering piracy a noble fight for freedom of information and data), the ebook industry is blooming.
All of the big players have noticed, and they’ve been present in Russia since 2012: Apple, Google and the British WHSmith. But as the Russian gadgets seem to be more popular than any of the big player’s readers, retailers have to sell their books in open, easily convertible formats.
Since Russia started regulating internet traffic and shutting down torrent sites to fight illegal downloads, I believe that within a couple of years the Russian market is going to be even more attractive for publishers and retailers.
The Russian Ebook Market in 2018 and Beyond
In an article by Publishing Perspectives in 2018, which included an interview with LitRes general director Sergey Anuriev, it was estimated that Russia’s ebook sector will more than double by 2020:
“Anuriev says he sees digital content accounting for up to 15 percent of the overall Russian market, from his vantage point as an analyst with the country’s largest ebook aggregator. He also says he estimates that in 2018 the Russian ebook market will reach 3.8 billion rubles (US$90 million) and will continue to grow throughout the year.” -Publishing Perspectives
The main challenge, just like in previous years, will be piracy. In fact, LitRes halted work on their LitRes Touch project due to piracy. In the article, Anuriev stated that manufacturers were not interested in investing in secure ereading devices attached to legally operated ebook stores, as users in Russia believe they’re a waste of money, since piracy is the norm. (Publishing Perspectives).
As all big retailers (Amazon, Apple, Google) are present in Brazil, we can have a fairly reliable picture of tendencies in the largest Latin American market. The interesting part is that based on data collected in 2013, Amazon and Apple are head-to-head in the number one position, each owning 30% of the market.
When in 2014 the Brazilian government decided to digitally distribute textbooks to public school teachers and students (and bought over 400.000 tablets to go with it!), Amazon became one of the approved platforms – alongside the local Saraiva.
In terms of academic content, the CAPES federal organization purchased periodical licences and ebooks worth of US $71 million content, which is available for university students free of charge. This resulted in an increased interest in the Brazilian market from the big names of the STM sector: Wiley and Springer.
Looking Ahead in the Brazilian Ebook Market
Brazil’s recent economic troubles have affected the book market in general, but according to an article in Publishers Weekly, there is hope for the ebook market:
“German Bookwire controls more than 80% of the Brazilian traditional ebook market, and had a 64% growth last year according to Marcelo Gioia, the country manager for Brazil. He expects another 22% growth in 2018. So the top trade publishers in Brazil are looking at roughly 7% of their revenues coming from digital.” -Publishers Weekly
As the country with the largest population, in 2013 China has overtaken America to become the world’s biggest e-commerce market (according to Morgan Stanley). After Amazon’s 2013 launch in the country, the most popular platforms for ebook purchases are China Mobile and China Unicom, followed by Amazon and 360. Authors and publishers have to consider fixed prices for ebooks and CEB, a domestic Chinese ebook format.
In terms of reading platforms, mobile devices are almost exclusively preferred (China being the world’s biggest market for smartphones), with a high percentage of readers reading fiction through apps. In terms of content, the market is being ruled by Shanda Literature: this is a platform for amateur writers who use it to build a community of readers. The most successful writers have the possibility of turning their works into printed books through a revenue-sharing agreement with Shonda Literature.
Chinese Ebook Market in 2018-2019
The Chinese ebook market is blooming, and young people are driving this change. According to stats cited in an article in China Daily, the number of Chinese readers increased by nearly 30 million in 2018. And the majority of these readers were born in the 1990s and 2000s. The report also stated that this demographic prefers ebooks to print books, and 46% of ebook readers in China were born in the 1990s.
But how has the Chinese book market fared in 2019?
In the first half of 2019, the Chinese book market went up by about 11%, thanks to online retail sales. (Forbes) Although sales in physical bookstores dropped a bit, it appears that heavy discounts were one of the main factors in driving online book sales in 2019.
Rainy Liu (from the analysis firm OpenBook) was quoted in the Forbes article as saying, "In the first half of 2019, online channels’ shoppers enjoyed an average book discount rate of 40 percent. And that data doesn’t include additional promotional activities such as double-discount specials, gifts offered with certain purchases, and coupons."
Since this data reflects the buying habits of Chinese book consumers, offering discounted prices might be something to consider for self-published authors who distribute ebooks to China.
If you’re interested in any other countries and want us to find out more about them, or you have some exciting data you’d like to share with us, let us know!
A quick note from PublishDrive: Are you an author looking to distribute ebooks to China? We can help! Sign up for a PublishDrive account to reach hard-to-access markets, including China and many more.
Kindle App Market Share
One reason behind Amazon’s traditionally high market share could be that the now 10-year-old Kindle was the first widely available and affordable ebook reader with easy click-to-buy options. Instead of converting and transferring files, consumers can simply buy from the app and enjoy synchronization across all devices.
Great as it sounds, however, ebook readers are a dying breed. In the US, the number of readers using a dedicated ebook reader has remained the same from 2011 to 2016, while those reading on tablets, smartphones, or laptops substantially grew.
More and more users reading from Apple or Android products are less likely to download Amazon Kindle than shop from their own pre-installed shops. This claim is supported by SimilarWeb data: according to the charts, Amazon Kindle is only the 2nd or 3rd most popular reading app in Google Play.
Synchronisation is no longer an issue with any of the built-in apps, neither unique features. The only problem could be catalogue size: while none of the big players disclose their catalogue size, we are talking about millions of books available to buy or rent from Kindle, Google Play or iBooks.
To sum up:
The numbers do not lie, so we believe in publishing wide to as many retailers as possible. The Amazon market share is a very important consideration for all authors and indie publishers, but don't forget the potential sales you’d miss when distributing exclusively to Amazon. Just open your mind to many new retailers available in PublishDrive's distribution network.
To reach global sales channels like the ones described above, sign up for a PublishDrive account today! With PublishDrive, you can manage ebook distribution to 400+ stores, marketing, analytics, and more through a single dashboard.