The Non-Fiction Ebook Revolution

As a writer it’s been interesting to watch the publishing industry upheaval since my first book was traditionally published in 2007. Gone are the days of physically mailing query letters to agents or small publishers and waiting weeks or months for a response—if you got one at all. Instead you can now email queries and wait weeks or months for a response—if you even get one. J

But the biggest change to the publishing world has been the proliferation of ebooks. Ebooks, which only applied to a small niche audience in the pre-Kindle days, have gone mainstream. They’ve changed the way people read and access books and empowered writers to cut out the middleman and sell their book directly to readers. All of these are positive changes in an industry that, until recently, was partying like it was 1899.

When you read about success stories like Hugh Howey and other writers who have benefited from the ebook revolution, the success stories primarily focus on fiction writers. Rarely do you hear about non-fiction authors or how readers of there are responding to ebook upheaval.

Since I primarily write non-fiction, I’ve noticed that it’s taken a little longer for my readers to embrace ebooks. My audience is primarily female between the ages of 30-60. Some of them are avid readers but most of them probably read only or two books a year. (There’s nothing wrong with that. Most people in the world don’t read more than one books in any given year.) Most of them don’t own Kindles, Nooks, or other e-readers. Yet despite this, my readers are embracing ebooks nearly as much as avid readers. It just took them a few years longer to adopt.

Here’s what I’ve observed: When I turned down a traditional publishing contract in the summer of 2011 to pursue the indie route, I knew my audience well enough to know that that most of my readers still wanted a print copy. So when I released my first relationship guide in August, I made sure a print and ebook version were both available.

It turned out to be a wise move.

From the time the book was released in August 2011 to the end of the year, about 65% of my sales were from physical books—mostly sold through Amazon.  By the time my second indie title came out in April 2012, the number of physical book sales had fallen to 55% of my total sales.

Then, that fall, something changed. September of 2012 I noticed for the first time that ebook sales had overtaken print sales. It wasn’t by a lot. In fact, total ebook copies only sold a total of five more copies then the print versions. I thought it was a fluke.

Turns out it was anything but.

After I looked at each monthly report, the number of ebook sales continued to skyrocket while the number of paper copies sold fell. When I released my latest book back in February, physical book had fallen all the way to 40% of my sales. In May, the last month of sales that are available, physical books only made up 35% of overall sales while ebooks made up 65%--an exact inverse of my sales when I started doing things on my own.

And the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Keep in mind, the majority of my readers don’t own e-readers. The reason they’re embracing ebooks, at least what I can discern from reader feedback, is that they read them tablets like the iPad or on their smartphones. Technology has finally made it convenient for them to take advantage of the price and convenience of ebooks. In addition, they like the privacy that comes with ebooks. (Who wants to be seen in public reading a relationship guide?)

That means if you haven’t sold your stock in Barnes & Noble, now would be a great time to unload it.

In the future, there will probably always be a (small) demand for print books and I have no plans whatsoever to discontinue making print copies available for my upcoming novel and other non-fiction projects. As long as readers still what to buy them, I’ll keep producing them.

But those who say still a war between ebooks and physical books are deluding themselves. The war between print and ebooks is over. Ebooks have won—big time. All that’s left is mop-up operations.