Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Many Copies?

The Telegraph reports -- in a completely unsourced article that I've seen referenced several places online already -- that sold more copies of the Kindle edition of Dan Brown's new blockbuster The Lost Symbol yesterday than it did of the regular hardcover edition.

This may be a sign that ebooks -- the Brazil of publishing; they're the future and always will be -- are finally poised to conquer the world...or, as I suspect, it may not.

I don't see any press release from Amazon saying this officially, first of all.

Even if this does come officially from Amazon, it's in line with their other tortured comparisons designed to make Kindles sound incredibly wonderful without actually giving any solid numbers, like the famous "of all of the books that have Kindle editions, the percentage of the total number of copies sold that are Kindle editions have gone up massively since a time when the Kindle was brand new."

There's also the question of what the comparison actually includes, particularly if it includes pre-orders of the hardcover, or if those were shipped early to hit doorsteps on Tuesday.

Amazon: if you want to crow, you'll need to release numbers. Saying how many Kindles have sold to date -- and I have reason to believe it's far below the millions some have claimed -- would be a good first step.

Postscript: I believe the source of that story is this blog post, which noted that the Kindle edition rose above the hardcover on an Amazon bestseller list. Since Amazon's secret bestseller metric is believed to prize velocity, and the Kindle edition of The Lost Symbol had only been available for purchase once the book was published, this obviously makes a big difference. We don't know how many copies Amazon has sold of either edition, and we probably never will. However we do know, from Random House's announcement, that The Lost Symbol sold a million copies yesterday, across all retail channels. I suspect the Kindle sales were more than one order of magnitude lower, and probably at least two.

Update: I've now found a Wall Street Journal article datelined today which quotes an Amazon spokesperson saying that the Kindle edition outsold the hardcover on the day of release, "excluding pre-orders." Given, again, that the hardcover had massive pre-orders and the Kindle edition had none, this is not any kind of reasonable comparison. Once again, Amazon is carefully parsing its words to make the Kindle seem super-successful, which tends to make me believe that it is not living up to their expectations. (Or else they would say broader, more clearly positive things, and actually cite numbers.)


constant gina said...

We are now entering an age where digital copy sales will surpass the physicals, by far. Welcome to 2010.

Andrew Wheeler said...

constant gina: Just saying something doesn't make it so; I first heard that in 1996, and it wasn't true then. It's slightly more likely now, but ebooks are still an order of magnitude lower (as a percentage of the book business) than audiobooks are, and nobody is running around claiming audiobooks are the wonderful new wave of the future.

The emperor may be dazzing and exciting, but his current clothes do not withstand close examination.

jason bakely said...

Great for him I 'm glad he's selling millions...

Gary Farber said...

"The Telegraph reports -- in a completely unsourced article"

British newspapers make a regular practice of publishing completely unsourced reports. It's a different tradition and set of standards than American journalism; it's perfectly usual.

I find it infuriating, myself, but there are some pro things to say about British journalism over American, as well, such as their willingness to be opinionated and make their biases clear.

But announcements and claims of events and information, without any source given, is SOP.

Unknown said...

Just for the record, the Kindle version was in fact available for Pre-order through Amazon. Not that I bothered, but I did get an email from Amazon about it. (As well as several others letting me know about the hardcover pre-order.)

I don't know about other folks, but I tend to stay away from the Kindle pre-orders because the price for the pre-orders have trended higher, an odd trend that is in opposition to the way it seems to work with the popular versions of physical books from Amazon. This is particularly true with Amazon's "commitment" to publish NYT Bestsellers at the artificially low price of $9.99. Sometimes, when a book first comes out, it takes a week or two before it gets on the NYT list, and hence the price might be higher until it hits the list.

None of that negates the rest of your observations. Even as a fan, I'd agree with your general assessment that ebooks are probably two orders of magnitude lower than physical book orders at this point. That will change as the ereaders become more ubiquitous, and I do think the Kindle marked the tipping point on the trend, but we're not there yet.

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