Print Books or Ebooks: Where Do You Stand?


I did a post recently giving my cracked crystal ball look at the publishing industry, and after some spirited discussions on Twitter about what the future of print books might be, I decided to follow up on that post by taking a microscopic look at the issue from the perspective of my own sales and how it’s been affecting my business decisions.

So, let’s set the stage by taking a look at my sales for July, which has been the peak month so far this year. Here’s how it looks:

Sales Channel Copies Sold Price Range Royalties Earned
Lightning Source (print) 40 $9.95-$16.95 $102.62
CreateSpace (print) 50 $9.95 $83.50
Kindle Store (ebooks) 21,186 $0.00-$5.99 $32,877.00
Other eBooks 360 $0.00-$5.99 $700.00*

* Note that the sales reporting for the other ebook channels I have via Smashwords aren’t as timely or accurate as the Kindle store, so these figures are approximate.

Now, you don’t have to be a statistical genius to see what’s going on in this table. Forgetting the copies sold for the ebooks, which in this month included a ton of free versions of IN HER NAME: EMPIRE, and just looking at the bottom line dollar figures, the “other” ebook sales channels did at least three times better than my total print sales, while Kindle sales were almost 170 times more.

“Well, hey, you just focused on the ebook market and left the print book lovers in the cold, you swine!”

I’ll certainly confess to slanting things more at the Kindle market, in particular, as it’s the biggest ebook market, but I wasn’t ignoring everything else. Oddly enough, looking back at my sales before they started taking off in February, the ratio of earnings between my ebook and print sales was still drastically tilted in the favor of ebook sales on what I estimate to be a 25:1 ratio, if not higher. So, it’s not like I ever put my print books under a black cloth and hid them. In fact, I even dropped the prices on them after my ebook sales started taking off (note: I’ll also confess here that I can’t add: my royalties for the print books are higher than $1.00 a piece, but maybe as much as $1.70 – I can’t do math!). Yes, I sold more after that, but not exactly enough to retire on.

This brings us to the ongoing discussion “out there” about the future of print books.

Let me make it clear that I don’t believe print books (and by that, I really mean novels more than anything else) are going to just disappear overnight, or even in the next fifty years. There is going to be a continued market for print books for the foreseeable future. There are lots of people who love physical books and have no intention of giving them up. I think that’s great and I love you guys & gals!

However, the inescapable reality is that the print market is rapidly diminishing. Again, you don’t have to be an industry expert to see that. B. Dalton – gone. Borders – gone. Books-a-Million has suffered losses every quarter so far this year. Barnes & Noble isn’t doing great, but hopefully will hang on. If it survives, it’ll largely be due to the success of the Nook, and because there won’t be much other “big store” competition, especially if Books-a-Million eventually goes down the tubes. And on Amazon, Kindle book sales continue to outstrip print sales by a growing margin, and the Kindle is penetrating more markets outside the U.S.

With their retail outlets dying, how are the legacy print publishers are going to survive? Answer: they won’t, unless they can adapt to the new paradigm.

As for me, I’ve really been questioning whether I should keep making print editions of my books. If you look at the numbers I had for July (other months are roughly the same proportionally), it’s sort of hard to get past how much the ebook segment is bringing in compared to print sales. From the business point of view, is it really worth the bother?

After a great deal of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that it is. But not because of some of the silly arguments people have been making in support of print books (for some examples, see this article on Big Think). It’s because even if the print editions are only bringing in $200 a month or whatever, that’s still $2400 a year, which in our area is good for a mortgage payment with a bit left over. To me, that’s an argument that actually makes sense.


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20 thoughts on “Print Books or Ebooks: Where Do You Stand?

  • amer hussain

    kindle all the way for me, just easier and quicker. print is nice but neither have the time or the money.