Joe wikert

Thats the question I kept asking myself as I read a report called The Impact of Ebook Distribution on Print Sales: Analysis of a Natural Experiment by Jeff Hu and Mike Smith. Youll notice that the report was originally written a couple of years ago but I believe the results would be the same today.

Back in 2010 there was some debate about whether a publisher could maximize revenue by delaying the release of an ebook. So just as paperback release follows hardback release the thinking was the ebooks release should come out after the print book so that customers would have to buy the higher-priced print, not the lower-priced ebook.

Thanks to a unique opportunity to work with a publisher who stopped releasing new ebooks for two months in 2010 the authors were able to analyze the sales impact of delayed ebook availability. Their conclusion: Delaying the ebook only works for the best-sellers. As the authors put it:

For popular books, delaying ebook release dates leads to a significant substitution toward print books. In contrast, for niche books, that do not have strong brand awareness among consumers, we find an insignificant substitution toward print books when ebook release dates are delayed. [Further,] the net effect of delayed Kindle releases is an overall loss in sales and, based on the best available data, a net loss in revenue and profit to the publisher.

That makes sense. Im pretty sure if the Harry Potter series was only available on stone tablets they would have sold just as many copies. On the other hand, all those other books out there with either delayed ebook releases or, more importantly, no ebook releases, are leaving money on the table. That last point is the most important takeaway for me.

I scanned the B&N top 100 (print bestsellers) as I wrote this and I saw that every title in the top 20 had a nook edition. Once you get past the top 20 its hit and miss. You find more gaps when you look in certain subject areas. I still come across titles from time to time where theres no ebook edition. There arent very many publishers playing the delay game these days but there are some who are still on the ebook sidelines.

Then you have the authors who insist on a print-only option. OK, you can get away with that if your name is Stephen King. Hes an enormous brand and can use his clout to force readers to print…or at least most of them. I wonder how long it will take for someone to scan Kings Joyland and post it on all the torrent sites. Im not encouraging that, of course, but I do believe that you can reduce piracy if you offer your content at a reasonable price in all the popular formats. Although Kings intent is to provide a reading experience from the old days Im convinced it will only increase piracy of the title and cause him to complain that ebooks and ebook customers are evil.

As a publisher I believe we should make sure that our content is available in every storefront possible, both physical and virtual. Its amazing to me that in 2012 we still see so many books that are only available in print format.

(Via Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog.)


  1. What drove me absolutely crazy when the publishers were trying to delay ebook releases is that I never knew when an eBook would be available, or if it would be released as an eBook at all. So, I would hold out and not buy a new release book that I wanted to read, hoping that an electronic version would be released. After a month or two, I would give up and buy the paper book (unless I could borrow a copy at the library earlier.) Sometimes an eBook version would be released a week after I bought the paper copy. This made me angry at the publisher.

    It was the uncertainty that was annoying to me, not so much the delay. I was already willing to accept, and was used to accepting, a 1 year delay between the hard cover and the paperback release dates for a new release title.

    I could have lived with a consistent windowing policy, but no-one ever tried that. By a ‘consistent policy’ I mean a commitment from the publisher that “we *will* release an eBook version of *every one* of our new release titles *exactly* 120 days after that title is released as a physical book.”

    Now, of course, the cat is out of the bag. I am now used to getting the eBook at the same time as the first paper book release. Any attempt to start delaying eBooks now would be doomed to failure.


  2. I agree with the comment they made in the article. If the book is not available in a format or price point that suits me, I’ll just wishlist it and read other stuff. Often, by the time it IS available, I have either read it for free at the library or lost interest altogether. What publishers need to understand, imho, is that there is more competition out there these days. Their one book is not the only item of media consumption that’s on my radar. Ya snooze, ya lose, as they say 🙂

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail