Publishing industry consultant Mike Shatzkin has a pretty lengthy blog entry over at the Shatzkin files in which he notes that the million-selling iPad has already had a measurable sales impact on the Agency 5’s e-book sales figures. He cites research by Michael Cader published Wednesday in the subscription-only Publishers Marketplace.

Cader got anonymized information from an unknown number of large Agency publishers for the April sales. He says that for most of the companies he surveyed, iBooks sales were 12 to 15 percent of their ebook total before the 3G models landed! And then two companies reported sales jumps of 300 and 400 percent on the weekend that they did. And one publisher who showed Cader figures by title revealed that there were already books on which the iPad sales exceeded Kindle sales.

Cader does note, Shatzkin says, that competition to the Agency 5 in the iBooks store was relatively restricted—Random House wasn’t there, nor were Smashwords, self-publishers and the other titles Amazon offers that iBooks doesn’t. But on the other hand, iPad owners also have access to the Kindle, Kobo, and other e-book stores on the iPad that wouldn’t be included in the iBooks tally.

It would be interesting to know how Amazon’s Kindle e-book sales figures were affected by the advent of the iPad. Too bad Bezos will probably never tell.

And of course, these sales do not take into account (apart from the launch weekend) the additional sales surge that would come about from all the new iPad 3G owners taking possession at the beginning of May. May’s e-book sales figures may well be even more impressive.

Shatzkin adds:

Even more exciting for publishers is the evidence that the iBooks sales are expanding the ebook market. Cader reported that many strong titles skewed to a younger and male demographic and that iBooks sales boosted the performance of some nonfiction titles. Most people figured that the iPad would appeal to an audience of not-as-heavy book buyers compared to Kindle, which was part of the reasoning behind my own flawed expectation that sales would be modest at first. But what we may be seeing is that people who get a decent reader in their hands might consume more books digitally than they had in print. If that proves to be true, it would be very good for publishers and authors.

Before the iPad launched, there was a lot of skepticism at its possible impact on e-book sales. People were just going to buy it to watch movies, play games, and surf the net, the thinking went—nobody would actually want to read on (horror of horrors) a glowy screen. It would appear that these preliminary results are proving these naysayers wrong.

Of course, on the other hand it could be in part the “Christmas Day” effect, in which people try out their devices by buying an e-book or two, but many decide they don’t like it and don’t go back. It may be necessary to wait for longer-term figures before the full impact of the iPad can be gauged.

Still, this does at least show that people are amenable to trying out iPads as e-book readers, and that’s something.

Shatzkin concludes by wondering whether Random House might now regret foregoing joining the agency pricing crowd and losing out on all those iBooks sales—and whether Random House might soon be changing its mind on that score. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it did, but I suspect we might have to wait a little while longer to find out.


  1. I’m not at all sure what to make of it.

    First off, a number of e-book stores sold zero ‘Agency 5’ titles during April, because their distributors no longer supplied them A5 titles to sell (and a month later, most still don’t have A5 titles to sell). For the remaining e-book stores, I would expect that sales of A5 titles dropped, perhaps precipitously, when the new pricing took effect. A number of my acquaintances ‘stocked up’ in March; others have slowed or stopped their buying of A5 titles either because of price or because of outrage. That would mean that the 12-15% share is of an artificially depressed number. What is Apple’s share compared to March numbers, hmm? Did the A5 do better overall in April than in earlier months? Shatzkin didn’t talk about that. I wonder why not?

    Second, there’s a corollary of sorts to the “Christmas Day” thing: people building their initial libraries and those who simply had a wish-list that couldn’t be fulfilled until the iBookstore opened. In the week after I got my NOOK, I was on a downloading frenzy. I’m still reading and occasionally downloading, but now my library is well-stocked.

    Without knowing the publishers involved, some of the statements are not very useful. For example, “one publisher who showed Cader figures by title revealed that there were already books on which the iPad sales exceeded Kindle sales” could refer to Penguin and its post-April-1 releases, whose Kindle sales were zero for the month of April due to the contract dispute.

    The analysts’ guesstimates that I’ve seen suggest that e-book sales had been somewhere around $20 million per month of late. At $10 per e-book, call it 2 million units per month. Shatzkin estimates that the A5 account for maybe 65% of e-book sales, so that’s maybe 1.3 million A5 units per month. Assuming no dip in sales from other vendors (yeah, right), iPad A5 sales were 12-15% of that, or 150 to 200 thousand. Humph. Not an impressive portion of Apple’s reported 1-1/2 million e-book ‘downloads’ from the iBookstore in April. Especially for 1 million iPad owners.

  2. Smashwords ebooks WERE in the ibookstore in April. I confirmed that my titles were there, and I know many other Smashwords authors had their ebooks placed in the ibookstore when it launched early April.

    The Smashwords blog even had an entry about it with photos of authors showing off their ebooks on the ipad.

  3. Hypothesis,
    People who bought the iPad at release are not especially price sensitive (otherwise they’d wait for price declines in the future) and are concerned about apparent high quality (Apple products always sell at a premium to reflect the perceived quality). Why would it be a surprise that this audience be attracted to premium-priced but, presumably higher quality product?

    Over time, iPad buyers are likely to be willing to explore more deeply. I certainly hope they’ll look into small publishers, especially those of us offering high-quality books at affordable prices.

    Rob Preece

  4. The one thing that feels true in the article is that the iPad demographic skews younger and male. I’ve often wondered if part of the reason everybody’s so quick to write off the Kindle as doomed is that the Kindle tends to skew older and female, and it’s not a demographic the tech press is used to seeing.

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