The “Print is Growing Again” Meme Must Die



This is a meme that really, truly has to die. It rears its ugly head way too often and is constantly repeated in one medium or other. Today, it showed up in the Guardian, and I just couldn’t take it any more.

This meme is WRONG.

It’s based on the idea that Nielsen (and other bookseller) reporting numbers are close to reality and can actually give valid information about how many ebooks are being sold. Or allow correct comparisons between ebook and print sales.

Thing is, Nielsen’s numbers are based on ISBNs. And that’s the simple reason why their data is flawed. Severely flawed. Here’s why:

Amazon ebooks have ASINs. (And yes, Amazon is the biggest distributor of ebooks.)

They may have ISBNs, especially when they are published by a big publisher, but most self-published ebooks on Amazon do not. They don’t need them. And most indie authors don’t bother with ISBNs, because buying them is expensive in most countries. (Yay for Canada where they are free!)

Which means:
Nielson does not even
see most sales of self-published ebooks.

In other words, their numbers are missing up to 30+% of the ebook market. Which is how large the market share of indie authors is already. (Author Earnings Report Januar 2015)

That’s massive.

And it totally invalidates all data and all comments and all predictions coming from the traditional publishing industry when they are based on Nielsen or similar bookseller reports.

There’s only one thing to do with any article that’s basing conclusions on Nielsen numbers:

Trash it.

So why is that meme still around?

Personally, I’d say it’s for psychological reasons. It’s whistling in the dark. It’s comforting the traditional publishing industry, saying that their way of doing business is still valid. That they can continue to do more of the same and still prosper.

And it’s certainly partly denial. The traditional publishing industry doesn’t even want to see how far indie authors have come (except those who they sign up). It’s so much easier to pretent they are just a bunch of whingers who couldn’t get a publishing deal. It’s so much easier to believe in the “tsunami of swill” which is another one of those memes that are getting really, really old.

So yeah. Ebook sales are probably not slowing, print is probably not regaining market shares (but also not dying), and indie authors are making progress.

Because readers don’t care who published a book. They don’t even particularly care for print. They want good stories, lots of them, and a convenient way to read them. Let’s provide those stories.

Time to go indie and do it well.

Image source: F. Moebius

About Hannah Steenbock

Hannah Steenbock is an author, dreamer, and coach. She has published several short stories in English and German, as well as one novel in German. In 2013 she started self-publishing her work. In 2014, she has won two awards for her short story "Sequoia".
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