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Publishing Perestroika: Indie Authors Blow Away Traditional Gatekeepers and Storm the Castle of Newspaper Bestseller Lists

By Steve Windwalker

Call it the “Paper Curtain,” if you like.

But like the Berlin Wall, it’s coming down.

As a result of the Publishing Perestroika that has been unleashed by readers and writers connecting primarily around Kindle content in the short span of just 39 months, the walls that have kept self-published and ebook authors from being included in prestigious newspaper bestseller lists will come crashing down this week.

Tomorrow, USA TODAY will roll out its weekly list of the top 150 bestselling books in the U.S., just as it does every Thursday.

Amanda Hocking
But for the very first time, USA Today announced today, its list for the week ending February 6 will include bestselling self-published direct-to-Kindle authors like Amanda Hocking. Hocking’s books currently rank #3, #11, #12, #27, #37, #41, and #46 on the Kindle Store top 50 bestsellers, and “the three titles in her Trylle Trilogy (Switched, Torn and Ascend, the latest) will make their debuts in the top 50 of USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list,” wrote USA Today’s Carol Memmott in an article entitled “Authors catch fire with self-published ebooks.”

Whether it happens this week or within a few more weeks, it’s also a good bet that Hocking will soon be accompanied by bestselling Kindle indie authors like John Locke, Victorine Lieske, and others.

And other, equally dramatic developments will follow:
  • One way or another, the fact that USA Today has opened its “bestseller list” gates to the great unwashed population of ebook and self-published authors will force the New York Times to do the same, lest its bestseller list be rendered irrelevant.
  • Once the Times and other rags allow self-published books on their bestseller lists, they will have to start publishing reviews of self-published books.
  • The prediction made here just a few weeks ago, that an indie author would be inducted by early 2012 into the “Kindle Million Club” alongside James Patterson, Stieg Larsson, and Nora Roberts, will prove to have been ridiculously conservative. Regardless of when Amazon makes the announcement, Hocking will pass the million-copy mark in Kindle books sold by the first day of Spring this year, and she will be joined by another dozen indie authors before the arrival of Spring in 2012.
All of these changes probably became inevitable, even though we didn’t know it then, when Amazon launched the Kindle on November 19, 2007.
But the barons of the book industry and the big New York publishers should make no mistake about the fact that these events have been hastened dramatically by their own tragically misguided launch of the agency model price-fixing plan early in 2010. Their tone-deaf move to try to protect their print publishing business model by insisting upon increases of 30 to 50 percent in ebook prices opened the doors wide to indie authors to lure readers with lower prices for what, in many cases, are better books.

During the last week before the agency model launch, in March 2010, there was not a single fiction title by an indie author along the top 50 bestselling titles in the Kindle Store.

This week, indie fiction authors have 18 of the top 50 spots. Those are 18 of the top 50 bestselling ebook spots in the land, worth well over a million copies sold during the month of February, and the agency model publishers might just as well have said “Here, come and take these, we don’t need them.”

With “Kindle Singles,” Amazon Shows Off Its “Harvard Degree” in eBook Pricing

Other bloggers and journalists have joined Amazon’s own press office this week in making a big deal of Amazon’s “brand new” initiative called “Kindle Singles,” and I think it’s a big deal, too.

But brand new? Not so much.

First, let’s take a straight-on look at Amazon’s press release announcement of Kindle Singles, on Wednesday, January 26: Priced between $0.99 and $4.99, at a length “typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words, each Kindle Single is intended to allow a single killer idea — well researched, well argued and well illustrated — to be expressed at its natural length.” Nothing cheesy about that, right?

And despite grousing from some quarters that Kindle Singles are just a way to increase the cost-per-word for Kindle customers (I disagree), the initial launch of 22 Kindle Singles titles has done very well. The day after launch various Kindle Singles offerings dominated the Kindle Store’s Movers and Shakers list, and as of Saturday afternoon January 29 all 22 titles were in the Kindle Store’s overall top 4,000, 16 were in the top 1,000, and two are in the top 100. That’s actually a brilliant launch for such a diverse array of 22 titles by authors who, with a few notable exceptions like Jodi Picoult and Pete Hamill, are not bestsellers.

But here’s what I found a little amusing: 

Amazon has been down a path very similar to this one before, almost exactly a year ago. On January 25, 2010, Amazon issued a press release for a new venture called “Harvard Business Review Short Cuts.” There are differences, of course. Few of the Short Cuts authors had any name recognition at all, their Short Cuts were nothing more than repurposed chapters, and they were all priced at $3.99 each. Even though Amazon says that Kindle Singles will be “priced between $0.99 and $4.99,” all 22 of the initial offerings are priced between $0.99 and $2.99, and the average price is just $2.22. They are a diverse group of offerings, topics, and genres, and many of the authors are well-known in one field or another.

At the earlier $3.99 price point, the “Harvard Business Review Short Cuts” program was a pretty dismal failure. Indeed, back on July 12, 2010 the program was Exhibit A for my post entitled “Pricing to Fail: Case Studies in Dumb Pricing – Harvard Business Review Short Cuts, the Irrelevance of Cost Issues,” in which I described the program’s January 2010 launch and then wrote:

Six months later, the initiative looks like a failure, despite heavy promotion by Amazon and the valuable imprimatur of the Harvard Business Review Press. Most of the titles are languishing far out the “long tail” in Kindle Store sales rankings, i.e., over 70,000 in most cases. Part of the problem, it seems likely, is that the “Short Cuts” series is overpriced, with a list price currently set at $3.99, discounted 20 percent by Amazon to $3.16. Even at $2.99, a reader wanting to work through all eight to 12 chapters of the full books from which these short-form ebooks are drawn would have to shell out roughly $25 to $35. One would think that anyone with the wherewithal to be able to digest Harvard Business School materials with his morning coffee would also be capable of the number-crunching necessary to determine that the convenience of bite-size ebook chapters is more than offset by the high price. At $1.49 to $1.99 each, “Short Cuts” might well be a winning proposition.

So, kudos to Amazon, for it is clear that they went to school on the pricing issues that made the Harvard collaboration a loser and came back with the combination of content and pricing required to make Kindle Singles a brilliant success. Here are the first 22 offerings, with introductory text from Amazon:

Each Kindle Single presents a compelling idea–well researched, well argued, and well illustrated–expressed at its natural length. From an elaborate bank heist in Lifted, to Congolese rebel camps in The Invisible Enemy, to Jodi Picoult’s moving portrayal of family in Leaving Home, they offer nuanced journeys of both fact and fiction. This first set of Singles was selected by our team of editors, and includes works by Rich Cohen, Pete Hamill, and Darin Strauss. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have.

The Real Lebowski

The Real Lebowski by Rich Cohen. He wrote the first draft of Apocalypse Now. He discovered Arnold Schwarzenegger. He wrote Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day.” The Vanity Fair writer and author of Sweet and Low trails tough-guy screenwriter/director John Milius as he fights to find his place in a transformed and unwelcoming movie business.

The Invisible Enemy

The Invisible Enemy by Jonathan Littell. On assignment from Le Monde, the acclaimed novelist (The Kindly Ones) chronicles a forgotten war–the Lord’s Resistance Army’s terrorist campaign in Congo–and its devastating effect on innocent families.

Leaving Home: Short Pieces

Leaving Home: Short Pieces by Jodi Picoult.  The deep pains and powerful pleasures of parenting: those are the extremes explored here by the extraordinary novelist Jodi Picoult. In three short pieces that display her wide emotional range, Picoult weaves together stories of love and loss with heartbreaking simplicity.

They Are Us

They Are Us by Pete Hamill. From the eminent journalist and novelist comes a common-sense plea for a new immigration policy, one that asks America to embrace its illegal-alien population, not condemn it. Hamill advocates a fresh look at amnesty and pardon policies, offering illegal immigrants a “hand of welcome.”

Octomom and the Politics of Babies

Octomom and the Politics of Babies by Mark Greif.  Eight babies. A financial crash. The porn offers. The infant formula. How one woman became a scapegoat for America’s troubles–but taught us how both the mighty and the powerless are gaming our system. This comic, provocative, wittily argued essay from n+1 suggests that the real meaning of Octomom reflects the way we all live now.


Lifted by Evan Ratliff . The thieves had a handpicked crew, a stolen helicopter, a cache of explosives, and a plan to rob a $150-million cash repository. The Stockholm police had a tip-off. Ratliff, a writer for Wired and The New Yorker, recounts the inside story of an audacious 2009 bank heist, and the race to solve it.

Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story

Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story by Sebastian Rotella/ProPublica.  The latest reporting from ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom, reports on the U.S. investigation of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai and provides a detailed picture of the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence service and a leading militant group.


Darkstar by Christopher R. Howard. In this pre-apocalyptic love story, Sailor, a homeless Irish teenager who’s haunted by a diabolical voice, seeks to reunite with a soul mate he hasn’t seen since boyhood, as a cosmic event threatens to extinguish life on Earth. Howard’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, and his first novel, Tea of Ulaanbaatar, comes out this May.

How To Not Succeed In Show Business By Really Trying

How To Not Succeed In Show Business By Really Trying by Claudia Lonow.  The road from Knots Landing actress to success as a Hollywood TV writer proved a bit bumpy for Claudia Lonow. It involved a high school crush accused of murder, includes unfortunate professional encounters with Michael Keaton and Mary Tyler Moore, and culminates in a boyfriend-bonding experience at a Van Nuys sex club.

Long Island Shaolin

Long Island Shaolin by Darin Strauss. Karate belts are for losers. So novelist (and 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for his memoir, Half a Life) Darin Strauss discovered as a teenager growing up on Long Island, during a brief brush with Kung-fu mastery, suburban-style. One handy lesson learned: if two lions meet, they don’t have to fight.

Rescuing Evil: What We Lose

Rescuing Evil: What We Lose by Ron Rosenbaum. The author of Explaining Hitler and the forthcoming How the End Begins explores the controversial use of the term “evil,” in a provocative analysis that leads from Hitler to a psycho serial-killer cabbie in London. Rosenbaum makes a powerful case for the connection between evil and free will.

Chinese Dreams

Chinese Dreams by Anand Giridharadas.  After six years exploring his parents’ native India, Anand Giridharadas–a young technology columnist for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune and author of India Calling–returns to China to measure a vast, troubled nation’s accomplishments and dreams.

The $500 Diet

The $500 Diet by Ian Ayres.  What if every pound you lost also saved you some hard-earned cash? When Ian Ayres, a law professor at Yale, wanted to drop from 205 pounds to 180, he put his money where his mouth was. And it worked. The author of Carrots and Sticks shares his unique, incentive-based plan for losing weight.

Piano Demon

Piano Demon: The globetrotting, gin-soaked, too-short life of Teddy Weatherford, the Chicago jazzman who conquered Asia by Brendan I. Koerner.  At age six, Teddy Weatherford was working in a Virginia coal mine. Two decades later, he was the jazz king of Asia. Koerner, a Wired contributing editor and author of Now the Hell Will Start, tells how a piano legend in a sharkskin suit lived the American Dream by leaving it behind.

Journey to the Edge of the Light: A Story of Love, Leukemia and Transformation

Journey to the Edge of the Light: A Story of Love, Leukemia and Transformation by Cristina Nehring.  At what should have been one of the happiest moments of her life–on the eve of a rave review of her 2009 book, A Vindication of Love, on the cover of the New York Times Book Review–Cristina Nehring learned that her young daughter had leukemia. There began a journey through the medical world, and into her little girl’s heart.

Beware Dangerism!

Beware Dangerism! by Gever Tulley.  Don’t let your kids climb on a jungle gym, eat bugs, or lick batteries. These are just a few of the standard-issue warnings that Gever Tulley, co-founder of the Tinkering School, tells us to ignore in this counter-intuitive essay. His basic message is both empowering and fun: Do try this at home.


Reboot-enanny by Rebecca Huval.  A young woman with dreams of a songwriting career finds friendship–and an audience–among a group of 1960s folk musicians who still live and thrive right where it all began, in Greenwich Village.

The Business of Media

The Business of Media by Larry Dignan. For journalism students, writers, and aspiring media moguls everywhere–a guide to navigating the brave new world of the media, circa 2011. Larry Dignan, editor in chief of ZDNet, parses the past and forecasts the future for a media universe that seems to re-invent itself almost daily.

The Dead Women of Juárez

The Dead Women of Juárez by Robert Andrew Powell.  It sounded like one of the great murder mysteries of our time: who was killing the women of Juárez? Journalist Robert Andrew Powell went to the Mexican border town to investigate, and separates fact from myth in a saga that eerily echoes the plot of Roberto Bolaño’s epic novel 2666.

Days of Thunder

Days of Thunder by Thorsten Schier.  Ever hear of the New York Thunder? Didn’t think so. They’re New York’s number-two pro basketball team. Maybe you should try rooting for them. They could use the help. Thorsten Schier spends a season inside the (rented) Thunder locker room.

The Happiness Manifesto

The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks.  Modern research proves the ancient wisdom that “money can’t buy you happiness.” But then why do our governments see their main task as simply growing GDP? Nic Marks, the founder of the London-based Centre for Well-Being, sets out an ingenious new way of defining national goals, and in the process reveals five ways people can nurture their own happiness.

Homo Evolutis

Homo Evolutis by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans.  Enriquez and Gullans–two eminent authors, researchers, and entrepreneurs–explore a world where humans increasingly shape their environment, their own selves, and other species. They envision a future in which humankind becomes a new species, one which directly and deliberately controls its own evolution and that of many other species. One of the inaugural TEDBooks.

INCOMING! IDENTIFY! IDENTIFY! Yes, It’s the Kindle Revolution

We have dispatches from all over this week, and they all bear the same identifying marks.

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice-president for Kindle Content, addressed a Digital Book World panel yesterday and summed up the changes that are taking place in the world of publishing and reading like this:

“However fast you think this change is happening, it’s probably happening faster than you think.”

Grandinetti also said that, already, Kindle books are outselling their hardcover counterparts in Amazon’s store by a 3-to-1 ratio.

So, between Grandinetti’s statements and items we have reported here previously, we’ve had plenty of basis lately for concluding that:

  • Kindle content sales are dominating content sales for other ebook platforms; and
  • Kindle content sales are dominating Amazon’s print book sales.

But Grandinetti also provided some tantalizingly Amazonesque numbers that, if they spread across a range of titles, would demonstrate rather convincingly that the Kindle content delivery system is enabling Amazon to gain an unprecedently dominant position across the board in bookselling.

According to Publishers’ Marketplace (a paid subscription site serving, mainly, the traditional publishing industry), Grandinetti said, for Emma Donoghue’s bestselling novel Room, “total Kindle sales are equal to 85 percent of Nielsen BookScan’s print sales number.” Extrapolating from that equation, Publisher’s Marketplace concluded that Kindle sales amounted to 40 per cent of all sales in all formats by all retailers for Room.

Room is published by agency model publisher Hachette, and the Kindle edition is currently priced by the publisher at $11.99, so it is likely that the Kindle sales of Room would have amounted to only 75 to 85 percent of Amazon’s total sales for the title. Thus, if we add Kindle editions and hardcover sales by Amazon, Amazon must be at or above 50 percent of all sales in all formats by all retailers for Room.

How stunning a development is that? Well, prior to the launch of the Kindle in 2007, Amazon was widely considered to account for somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of all sales of all books in all formats by all retailers. It now appears that the Kindle’s incredibly friction-free content delivery system has given Amazon a real chance to double, and perhaps triple, that share of the total bookselling market.

Not so fast, one might say. Amazon has nowhere near that 40 to 50 per cent market share when it comes to textbooks. Or children’s books. Or cookbooks. True enough, and it probably won’t get to those levels in those categories for a long time, if ever.

But Amazon doubtless has even higher market shares when it comes to indie authors’ books, a huge percentage of which are published direct-to-Kindle. And we are seeing greater evidence every week that indie authors are the fastest growing segment of content producers in the ebook revolution, with the most recent stories of brilliant success surrounding bestselling Kindle Store author Amanda Hocking, whose $2.99 ebooks are currently #2, #9, and #12 among all books in the Kindle Store.

Likewise, Amazon certainly has higher market shares than 40 to 50 percent when it comes to books for which the company itself is the publisher, through AmazonEncore and AmazonCrossing. But that can’t be much, right? Because Amazon is a retailer, not a publisher, right?

Well, whatever you want to call it, that’s fine. But it’s worth noting here that The Hangman’s Daughter, the #1 book in the Kindle Store with well over 100,000 copies sold in less than two months, is published by AmazonEncore. And there will be more of these, many more.

Finally, the last bit of incoming information comes from our own Kindle Nation Survey. We’ll wait until the survey is closed at midnight Hawaii time January 31 before we begin to break it down. For now we’ll just say that more than any previous survey, this one makes it clear that readers are in charge, and that the meaning of the Kindle revolution in terms of our reading behavior lies predominantly in three dramatic developments:

  1. Readers are deciding what they want to read, and factors like a traditional publisher’s imprimatur and new release status and the stigma of “self-published” are losing force.
  2. The influence and recommendation systems that lead readers to specific books are changing dramatically so that influences like massive front-of-store placements and even bestseller rankings are giving way to informal recommendations and new sources of influence.
  3. Readers have taken over much of the role of setting prices in the new book business by delaying purchases of books they want to read if the prices are, in their judgment, too high. The publishers who drew lines in the sand behind their right to set prices under the agency model won a Pyrrhic victory, because as Wall Street market makers know, an item’s price does not really become a price when a seller offers it; it becomes the real price when a buyer pays it. Publishers continue to set new release prices reflexively in the $12-$15 range, but only two of the top 20 bestselling ebooks in the Kindle Store are priced above $9.99.

For the agency model, and for brick and mortar bookstores, we are over halfway to “game over.” Whether the publishers who have stood behind the agency model can survive past mid-decade remains to be seen, but nothing about the way they are playing their hands should inspire confidence.

The Kindle Revolution and the Bottom Line: Amazon to Announce 2010 Corporate Earnings After Stock Market Close Today, January 27, 2011

Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) will hold a conference call to discuss its fourth quarter 2010 financial results on January 27, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. PT/5:00 p.m. ET. The event will be webcast live, and the audio and associated slides will be available for at least three months thereafter at www.amazon.com/ir.

It will be interesting, as always, to see how much information the company provides about the business success of the Kindle, sales of ebooks and other content, and related issues such as the success of Amazon’s very new but shockingly successful publishing imprints such as AmazonEncore and AmazonCrossing.

Just How Big is the Kindle Revolution? Our Estimates: Amazon Has Sold 12 Million Kindles, and There Were Over 10 Million Paid Kindle eBook Sales in the Last Week of 2010

Amazon inducted bestselling author Nora Roberts as the third member of its Kindle Million Club yesterday with a press release stating that Roberts “has sold 1,170,539 Kindle books under her name and her pseudonym J.D. Robb.” So we now have the following members in the Kindle Million Club, and you can click on these links to fill your Kindles up with hundreds of their titles:

Come to think of it, when you look at the long lists of titles by Roberts and Patterson, it is all the more impressive that Larsson was able to storm the castle with a single trilogy. But there’s definitely a lesson here for emerging authors, and it is a lesson that many Kindle Nation faves like Imogen Rose, Scott Nicholson, Paul Levine and J.A. Konrath have learned well: trilogies, series, and multiple titles allows authors great efficiencies when it comes to building exposure for their books.

While the Kindle Million Club will always be an elite club, it is also very likely that membership in the club will expand geometrically in the next few years. By this time next year I would expect the club to have about 10 members, and to be very close to inducting its first “indie author” member. By mid-decade we’ll see a dozen members of the club who are operating, at least for current ebook purposes, without traditional publishers.

Which brings us back to a topic we’ve been discussing ever since the first month the Kindle came out back in late 2007: just how big is the Kindle revolution?

In last week’s Kindle Nation weekly digest we hinted that I would be back this week with some analysis to support my belief that:

  • first, Amazon recently passed the 12-million mark in total Kindles shipped since November 2007; and
  • second, readers downloaded about 15 million Kindle ebooks, including 10 million paid books, during the final week of 2010.

Frankly, the details of triangulating in on how many Kindles there are in the world can get a little dull, but here are our estimated benchmarks for cumulative Kindle sales during the past three years and change:

  • Kindle Launch – November 19, 2007
  • 100,000 Kindles – March 2008
  • 750,000 Kindles – October 2008
  • 1 Million Kindles – March 2009 (Kindle 2 Ships)
  • 3 Million Kindles – December 2009
  • 4 Million Kindles – July 2010
  • 6 Million Kindles – August 2010 (Kindle 3 Ships)
  • 8.5 Million Kindles – December 12, 2010
  • 11 Million Kindles – December 24, 2010
  • 12 Million Kindles – January 2011
  • 22 Million Kindles – December 2011 (conservative projection)
  • 35 Million Kindles – December 2012 (conservative projection)

All of the figures for 2008 and 2009 are consistent with figures we estimated contemporaneously, and of course others then claimed at each of those points that our estimates were far too aggressive. In each case, however, the sales arc on which my figures were based was eventually confirmed and became the consensus view.

Now we’re not trying to prove our case to a jury here, and of course Amazon doesn’t disclose these numbers. But a few things that Amazon has said in the past year or so help, nonetheless, with the triangulation:

  • Jeff Bezos announced at the end of 2009 that Amazon had sold “millions of Kindles.”
  • Amazon announced on December 13, 2010 that “in just the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we’ve already sold millions of our all-new Kindles with the latest E Ink Pearl displays. In fact, in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009.”
  • Amazon announced on October 24, 2007 that it had sold 2.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7), with the 2007 holiday season still to come and the July 2009 paperback edition yet to be released. The Potter book has continued to sell briskly in the past three years (hardcover #1 for the entire year 2007, and both hardcover and paperback editions remain in the top 1,000 even now, in January 2011).
  • Amazon announced on December 27, 2010 that in just 4 months since its launch the Kindle  3 had already become “the bestselling product in Amazon’s history, eclipsing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7).” That statement referred both to hardcover and paperback copies of the Potter book, for which I would estimate Amazon’s total cumulative worldwide print sales to be about 7.1 million copies.
  • Finally, Amazon said throughout the month of December that it would not be shipping Kindles outside the U.S. in time for Christmas delivery, and all of the indications available to us here at Kindle Nation are that international Kindle shipments in the three weeks since Christmas have been very, very brisk.

I will leave you to connect your own dots there, if you are interested. Call me unrigourous, but this is not graduate school. Of course it doesn’t really matter in the long run if Amazon has shipped 12 million Kindles to date or 11.75 million or 12.3 million, but if you come up with a figure of fewer than 11.5 million you haven’t connected all the dots. The technical term is that they have shipped an even gazillion, and the Kindle’s sales velocity is not slowing down. Au contraire.

So what about my claim that readers downloaded 15 million Kindle books, 10 million of them paid, in the last week of 2010? Actually, those figures are conservative, despite the fact that my friend and colleague Morris Rosenthal (who brings a lot to the table where statistical estimates of Amazon sales are concerned) puts the figure at 3 to 3.5 million.

There are some important numbers that I cannot share here because they involve confidential information concerning my own sales figures and figures that have been shared confidentially with me by other authors and publishers, so let’s take a different approach. We’ll call it “common sense,” and there are several different ways we can come at this. Let’s start with something we got from the world of the Nook:

  • Barnes and Noble issued a press release on December 30 saying both that it had sold “millions of Nooks” so far and that customers had downloaded “nearly one million NOOKbooks purchased and downloaded on Christmas Day alone.” So we can extrapolate that on Christmas Day alone there was at least one ebook sold for every three Nooks.
  • We begin with the expectation that there were 11 million Kindles by December 25, but let’s say that 1 million of those were secondary Kindles, defunct Kindles, etc. On the other 10 million Kindles, assuming that Kindle owners are every bit the active readers that Nook owners appear to be, that would lead us to conclude that they downloaded 3.3 million Kindle books on Christmas Day alone. 
  • Amazon stated earlier that about 20 percent of Kindle books are downloaded to Kindle apps on other devices. While Kindle device sales were certainly brisk ahead of Christmas, so were sales of all the other devices that run the Kindle purchasing and reading app. Thus it makes sense to stick with the 20 percent figure for Kindle purchases on other devices, and if we do the math, that would come to 825,000 Kindle books downloaded on other devices. Let’s round it down to 4 million. Yep, that’s 4 million Kindle books purchased and downloaded on Christmas Day.
  • While the annual rush period for print book publishers, retailers, and authors runs from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, it’s a very different calendar in the ebook business. Sales peak on Christmas Day and hold at very high levels through the first week of January as people open new ebook readers. On December 25, 2009, I sold over 1,700 copies of my bestselling ebook, which was more than 3 times my sales on any previous day. But that ebook’s daily sales did not slip below 1,000 copies a day on any of the next 10 days. That experience runs parallel to what I have witnessed but cannot disclose about dozens of other ebooks by other authors, so that I am confident that if Amazon sold 4 million Kindle books on Christmas Day, its sales for the following 6 days did not slip below 2 million copies a day, for a total of over 16 million Kindle books sold during the final week of 2010, and the figure is probably higher still by a million or more. Even if a third of the downloaded Kindle books were free, that still comes to over 10.5 million paid Kindle books.

Or here’s another way to look at it, and we start again with the 11 million Kindles figure as of Christmas morning:

  • That figure includes 4 million previous-generation Kindles that were shipped by July 2010 and another 2 million Kindle 3s that were shipped prior to Labor Day. Let’s say that no paid ebooks at all were purchased on a million of those units during the last week of 2010, and that only an average of 0.5 ebooks were purchased that week on the other 5 million units. So there’s a very conservative start, with 2.5 million paid ebooks sold on those ancient Kindles.
  • Then let’s take the 5 million new Kindles shipped since August. Let’s say, again, that a million of those weren’t used to download a single ebook for the final week of 2010. On the other 4 million, let’s hypothesize something like this:
  • 1 million units downloaded 0.5 books each (0.5)
  • 1 million units downloaded 1.0 books each (1.0)
  • 1 million units downloaded 2.0 books each (2.0)
  • 1 million units downloaded 3.0 books each (3.0)
  • That comes to 9 million paid ebooks loaded directly to Kindles, and that would suggest 2.25 million ebooks loaded to Kindle apps on other devices, for a total of 11.25 million.
  • Again, I believe these models and the results of 10.5 to 11.25 million paid Kindle ebook sales for the last week of 2010 are conservative, because, for one thing, I believe that about 3 million Kindles were opened for the first time on or about Christmas Day and it would confound my understanding of human nature to think that, in the hands of people who love to read, those newly unwrapped Kindles led to only 6 million ebooks downloaded. I just don’t see many of those folks saying, “I can’t wait until Monday morning so I can go to the public library to find something to read.”

We could go on and on, but I sense that your eyes have already long since glazed over. Again, it doesn’t really matter if there were 11.25 million paid Kindle books sold during the last week of 2010 or 9.7 million, but we can be quite sure that the figure was far north of 3.5 million.

I have no doubt that there will be a few publishing industry insiders who read this post and conclude once again that I’ve been drinking that Kindle Kool-Aid again, and that I am totally caught up in the hype of the so-called “Kindle revolution.” They will point out that everyone knows that ebook sales are really only 8 or 10 percent of the trade book market.

To which I say, yep, it’s apple-flavored Kool-Aid and, well, how do you like these apples? … as reported today by Bob Minzesheimer and Craig Wilson in their USA TODAY Book Buzz column:

E-books surge: Egads, as cartoon heroes would say. E-books had another great week after up to 5 million digital reading devices were unwrapped for the holidays. Last week, the e-book outsold the print version for 18 of the top 50 books on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list, including all three Stieg Larsson novels. The week before, 19 had higher e-book than print sales. That was the first time the top 50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print.