In a tough year for the rest of America Amazon expanded its position in both honest-to God-books and their digital cousins. It also upgraded its Kindle e-reader and lowered the price to do battle with the iPad and other entries in the e-reader-tablet format wars. Which device(s) will prevail remains to be seen but by mid-year Amazon saw the sale of e-books to Kindle owners surpassed the sale of real books for the first time.
When Amazon chief Jeff Bezos presented these figures his graph looked like a rocket launch: the line went straight up.
Amazon not only expanded its dominance in books but extended its reach as a publisher. It bragged that authors who used the Amazon software and marketing apparatus could easily format their manuscript and could expect to receive much heftier royalties from Amazon than paid by conventional publishers. If those two features were not enticing enough there was also the prospect of vast undreamed of audiences.
Early in December the Wall Street Journal wrote about Darcie Chan, an unknown author, rejected by dozens of publishers who sold 400,000 copies of her novel. She made it to the New York Times Best Seller List with her Amazon assisted e-book The Mill River Recluse priced at 99 cents. The Amazon program, launched in 2007, allows authors to upload their books directly to Amazon's Kindle store, set their own prices and publish in multiple languages. Barnes & Noble followed suit in 2010 with a similar program for its Nook e-reader.
The big players in book selling got lots of media coverage in 2011; but what was it like for the other end of the spectrum, the small well established people, all of them on-line who actually had their own books and knew something about what was in them?
Well mostly they weren’t keeping stats, especially not for publication, but some people who talked with AE thought 2011 was “a bit of a nail-biter,” “hit and miss,” “up one month, down the next,” “flat is the new normal.”
If there was any good creep it was a perceived slight upward trend to the value of the average sale. Most said that number had risen in 2011, and added in the next breath, but the expenses of doing business went up for everything from the prices of postage to the cost of gas.
“The best thing you can say about 2011 is that it’s over,” was a familiar refrain. Asked about big ticket sales one well established seller replied: “We had no five digit sales, a few four digit sales, but there were enough three digit sales to keep us alive and we’ll do it again next year.”