We are living in a digital world where major publishers have firmly embraced the e-book format into their distribution cycle. When a new title is released in hardcover it is immediately available as an e-book. Print books depend on the lucrative holiday season to drive sales, as people tend to buy them as gifts and most big budget novels normally come out in the last three months of the year. Gifting an e-book is difficult, so people tend to buy them just for themselves. Knowing this, is the sales cycle for digital and print really different?
Nielsen BookScan is likely the best source for garnering meaningful data on the traditional publishing industry and e-books. The company gleans its e-books data from companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million. Their print numbers normally stem from bookstores and a myriad of non-traditional book selling outlets such as big department stores or supermarkets. Nielsen condenses the information and then distributes it to major newspapers such as the New York Times. Finally, once all of the hard data crunching is done, they redistribute it back to the same outlets that provided them with the initial data.
Everyone in the publishing world knows that print books tend to peak in the last three months of the year and this is where bookstores all over the world tend to see the greatest volume of sales. E-Books, however, seem to peak in the first two quarters of the year, presumably as consumers load up on content to enjoy on the tablet, smartphone or e-reader that they received as a Christmas present.
This trend has important implications for how commentators view the book market. Until now, the tradition has been to monitor the health of the book market in January following Christmas sales. This latest data from Nielsen though will prompt publishers and online retailers to compare these two peak quarters more easily, and avoid direct (and possibly unfair) comparison between physical and digital book sales in the final quarter of the year.
Hopefully bloggers and industry analysts will cut booksellers like Barnes and Noble a little bit of slack when the company reports their fiscal earnings. Many journalists get all up in arms when they hear that e-book sales have fallen in the holiday quarter and project doom and gloom. e-books and print do a different sales cycle from one another and its important to understand that.