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May 07, 2009

An author's perspective on the surge in Kindle sales (35% of units)

by Josh Bernoff

Kindle book In the midst of Jeff Bezos' announcement of the new large-format (newspaper-ready) Kindle was an amazing number.

Amazon says that for books available in both formats (275,000 titles including nearly all the bestseller) Kindle units account for 35% of unit sales.

Kindle is good for the books that people like you, the readers of this blog, like. Right now Groundswell is ranked #475 on the Kindle store while the print edition is #612 on Amazon. The bestseller list on Kindle looks a lot like the print bestsellers, but there are anomalies. For example, Jeff Jarvis' "What Would Google Do" is at #896 on Kindle, and #1352 in Amazon print. David Meerman Scott's "The New Rules of Marketing & PR" is #305 on Kindle; the print paperback is #373.

How do Amazon's numbers look to an author? There was a big spike in March when Kindle 2 shipped. Year to date for 2009, we have sold almost as many copies on Kindle as we did in all of 2008 -- sales are accelerating on Kindle when they have slowed in print. But for 2009, Kindle accounts for only 7% of our unit sales at Amazon, a lot less than the 35% they are quoting (see the chart at TechCrunch). Even in the peak month of March, when Kindle 2 shipped, Groundswell on Kindle was only 12% of total Amazon sales. I can only assume things are picking up rapidly in the Kindle store, and that new titles account for a lot of that volume.

Due to the lower list prices I make a lot less money for each Kindle unit sold. But the price-volume equation on Kindle can be far more elastic due to the fact that my publisher doesn't have to pay for printing, shipping, and taking inventory. And people with Kindles buy an awful lot of books -- probably more since they're cheaper. Since we (my Forrester colleagues and I) estimate that there are 800,000 Kindles out there and rapidly growing, I like this market. When my next book comes out, I bet that Kindle will be a big part of igniting the sales.


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Dharmesh Shah

Josh: Thanks for sharing this data.

Any thoughts on whether the terms between author/publisher are (or will be) different for Kindle sales?

Since the publishers incur a lot less cost, one would think that the revenues could be more appropriately distributed.

Josh Bernoff

Dharmesh, I'd rather not comment publicly on this until I finish my next contract with my publisher -- but it's gonna come up, that's for sure.

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