Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pie

I hear a lot of talk about the ebook market getting glutted with too many ebooks. Some say the pie is finite (the pie being the amount of money being spent on ebooks) and as more and more ebooks are published, authors will get a smaller slice and earn less and less.

This is so very bullshit I'm not sure where to begin.

First of all, there are billions of paper books on planet earth right now, but there was never any talk about being too many, or worries the paper market was saturated. What a ludicrous concept.

Author: Do you want put publish my new book?

Publisher: I'm sorry, but there are already too many books. We can't print anymore.

Silly, ain't it?

Second, the pie isn't finite. I've heard repeatedly that people who get ereaders read more and buy more than they did with paper. Even if another person was never born, and even if another ereader was never sold, there is still a huge, untapped market for authors.

For the sake of argument, let's say I've reached 10% of those who have ereaders. I've still got a long way before I saturate the market.

But the market is growing. Fast.

When I started self-pubbing on Kindle in 2009, there were 700,000 ebooks available. Now there are over a million. So there have been about 150k added each year.

There are a lot more than 150,000 Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and iPads sold per year. So the ereader market is actually growing faster than ebooks are being published. I would guess there are more ereaders than there are ebook titles, many times over.

The pie is getting bigger. In fact, it is growing faster than new content is being uploaded. That means more and more people are going to be looking for ebooks.

Here's a nonsense representation of what I'm talking about. Keep in mind I suck at math, and my figures aren't accurate. I'm pulling these numbers out of my ass, but I'm doing so to prove a point.

Let's say ebook titles grow by 150k a year, and ereader sales grow by 5 million a year.

In 2011, let's say there are 5 million ereaders, and 1 million ebook titles.

In 2021 there will be 50 million ereaders, and 2.5 million ebook titles.

In 2031 there will be 100 million ereaders, and 4 million ebook titles.

Get the picture? The market is expanding faster than the content is.

On first glance, this doesn't appear to be beneficial to the author. Look at it from a reader's point of view. I'm a Kindle owner. Right now, I have 1 million ebooks to choose from. In 2031, I'll have 4 million ebooks to choose from. One one hand, this is good for Joe the reader, because I have more choices. On the other hand, this seems bad for Joe the author, because of all the competition.

Which begs the follow-up argument I see a lot: "With all of those ebooks available, it will be impossible to find anything, and authors will get lost."

Doesn't the same apply to paper books? Or websites? Or music? Yet people still find things they like. The imdb now has over 1.7 million titles, yet people still can find movies and TV shows to watch.

As long as websites like Amazon make browsing easy, the cream has the potential to rise to the top. You don't have to be a monster bestseller. A hardcore niche group of 10,000 fans can support a writer quite easily. Write two ebooks per year at $2.99, and three shorts at 99 cents, and you're making $50k a year.

But ebooks don't stop selling after a year. They sell forever. And good books will eventually find more than just 10,000 readers. And every new book you write will find new readers along with old fans.

Going back to the 2031 figures, an author will have a much better chance of finding those career-sustaining 10,000 readers when there are 100 million ereaders out there.

In other words, as every day goes by, authors only have to appeal to a smaller percentage of the ereading population.

Which means we won't need to be bestsellers in order to make the same amount of money we're now making by being bestsellers.

Confused? Think of it like this.

Let's call my current slice of the pie 10%, meaning I've sold to 10% of the ereading public--about 500,000 ebooks (out of 5 million potential customers). In 2031, assuming my readership stays flat, I'll earn the same as I am now with a .005% slice of the pie. (500,000 ebooks out of 100 million potential customers.)

Now these numbers assume that I'm only selling one ebook per consumer, not multiple ebooks. If I have fans who buy multiple ebooks, I need fewer fans to make the same amount of money.

These numbers also assume I won't grow my fanbase, or write anymore ebooks. By 2031, I'll have at least forty more novels completed, plus dozens of shorts and novellas.

Of course, a lot of things can happen between now and 2031, and I may be wildly off base on a lot of this. But the fact remains that the pie isn't getting smaller. If you keep writing, and keep self-publishing, chances are you'll eventually find your audience. And you won't have to be in the Kindle Top 100 in order to make a nice living.

And for those not there, remember that cream rises. If you made cream, and it hasn't risen yet: make more cream.