eBook Sales and Seeing The ‘S’ Curve For What It Is

I came across the Kindle published masses turning to Joe Konrath to explain an unexpected downturn in sales. Understandably, Konrath’s self-publishing and ebook success is seen as the line in the sand for so many authors.

“I’ve been asked to speculate about the future in several emails, mostly from panicked authors whose Kindle sales have gone down in June. My sales have also dropped off about 15%, pretty much across the board. I was averaging 831 daily sales in May. So far in June, I’m at 725 a day. On Nook, I was averaging 50 a day. This month, I’m averaging 40.”
And dutifully, speculate is what Joe does. When it comes to ebook sales and its wider impact on publishers and readers, that’s all we can do—speculate. All we can be sure of is that the ebook is on a massive growth curve. Caress and love the growth curve yearly, and you can be sure it will continue to hold a steady shape and rise to the heavens. Look closer at that growth curve, whether it is month on month or day by day, and the shape will change. Sales gurus with their bright whiteboards and squeaky pens call it the ‘S’ curve. It’s often how a new product, service or innovation behaves after launch.

“A type of curve that shows the growth of a variable in terms of another variable, often expressed as units of time.

For example, an S curve of the growth of company sales for a new product would show a rapid, exponential increase in sales for a period time, followed by a tapering or leveling off. The tapering occurs when the population of new customers declines. At this point growth is slow or negligible, and is sustained by existing customers who continue to buy the product.”
Think of something like the Rubix cube from the late seventies, and you might start to understand how the emergence and explosion of the ebook works. Konrath suggested several reasons for the first perceived drop in sales being reported over the past few weeks by some authors, including his own sales figures.
Like August for the media, June has never been a great month for books; e-tailers continue to experiment with pricing, sometimes quite drastically; competition and the massive growth of new titles to the market; the constant problem for ebooks of rights, visibility and discovery; the development and release of new devices and compatibility—this is a moveable feast, not a Sunday roast dinner.
If anything, there is a lot to be learned on the long tail from the growth of mobile phones (cell phones), and importantly, we have a much longer timeframe graph to compare the growth of the mobile phone to the growth of the ebook. Market saturation is not something you are going to hear for a long time with ebook devices, but the day will come, because the history of Apple and Microsoft in the computer operating system war will tell you a thing or two about controlling content. For so long, Microsoft believed controlling the device made you king, but in the long tail Apple showed that content was king with their ‘app’ for anything drive.
That was a tricky bet for Apple. The lessons of the past were learned, and it may be the mistake Amazon are making with the dedicated Kindle – just as publishers once believed the print book was sacred – Amazon may learn the Kindle does not equal the ebook alone. There are no mugs in Amazon and the launch of Amazon Publishing may be  about to change a lot of things in the publishing industry. But I don’t expect them to petition the Oxford English Dictionary to have ‘Kindle’ replace ebook, just as it was commonplace for ‘Hoover’ to replace vacuum cleaner.
The reality is we are nowhere being able to formulate any trend on ebooks, other than what is cursory. Reading into a month will lead to the apocalypse, and reading into the tailfin of the ‘S’ curse will only lead us to manna from heaven. Right now, we are the photographer constantly stepping back from the subject trying to get a grasp on what we are seeing. Our job is not to fall over something behind us before we get the perfect picture of what lies before us.
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