Will 2014 Be the Year of the Indie?

I came across a link yesterday to a blog post that has gotten me thinking (always a dangerous thing). I’m still processing the information and haven’t drawn any definite conclusions. So, I thought I would throw out some more questions before I go back to posting reviews.

Dale Olausen has done an analysis on some data Amazon has recently released regarding the top 100 books. He’s compared the indie published titles in the top 100 to the traditionally published titles, restricting his analysis to ebooks, or as Amazon called them Adult Kindle ebooks. (Makes sense; these are only ebooks sold through Amazon.)

The first part of his analysis is here, and the second part is here. If you want to go read both posts, that’s fine. I’ll wait. When you come back, I’m going to tell you what got me thinking and engage in that time honored science fiction game of “If This Goes On…”

There, that analysis wasn’t so complicated, was it?

To summarize what got me thinking, Mr. Olausen found that indie books comprised 24% of the top 100, and indies outsold all publishers on an individual basis. The data have Random House and Penguin as separate publishers. If we count Randy Penguin as a single entity in those numbers, then that one publisher sold the most titles.

Things get even more interesting when you break them down by genre. Romance (which for the purpose of this analysis includes erotica) had the highest percentage of indie titles in the Top 100 Adult Kindle ebooks (75%), with science fiction and fantasy coming in second at 13% of titles being ebooks. Thrillers (crime, detective, and suspense) and literary fiction didn’t break the Top 100. If that last statement is a little surprising, keep in mind we’re talking ebooks only here, not print books.

In the second part of his analysis, Mr. Olausen compares the average rating for indie and traditionally published ebooks based on Amazon’s five star rating system. This is where things get particularly interesting.

Indie titles on average have higher ratings than traditionally published titles, with indie titles having an average rating of 4.23 and traditional titles having an average rating of 4.09. (Indie titles in the Top 100 Adult Kindle ebooks had an average of 1208 reviews per title, while traditionally published titles had an average of 1634 reviews per title.)

This holds true when the data are broken down by gender of the author, price point, and genre.

While there are some unanswered questions, as well as further analysis to be done, these data seem to point to a greater reader satisfaction with indie published ebooks than with traditionally published ebooks.

What follows is pure speculation on my part, albeit speculation based on the data referenced above.

There’s been some noise in the last year that the sale of ebooks has plateaued. I’m not sure that’s the case. My understanding is that these numbers don’t include sales through Amazon or directly from the author. Rather they’re coming from traditional publishers. At least that’s my understanding. I’ve seen this stated in a lot of places but don’t have a reference to the original source. If anyone does, please pass it along.

At a first glance, these data seem to indicate that ebooks have not only become a significant portion of the market, they have a greater degree of customer satisfaction. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. It’s the basis of the concept of velocity in publishing and movies. The term velocity in this context refers to how many copies are sold in the first week or in the case of movies the number of tickets sold on opening weekend. As Hollywood has learned, word of mouth can kill a movie very quickly. On the other hand, it can help set record ticket sales on opening weekend. A similar mindset exists in publishing.

If readers are enjoying indie published ebooks more than traditionally published ebooks, and they tell their friends, then it is reasonable that the indie share of the ebook market will continue to grow. As customers find they enjoy indie published ebooks more than traditionally published ones, they will tell their friends. If their friends try some recommended indie ebooks and like them and tell their friends…You get the idea.

If I were the CEO of a major publisher, I would be very concerned about these numbers. When you have data that shows customers prefer, or at least have a higher level of satisfaction, for you competitors’ product than for yours, you have a problem. While it would be easy to dismiss the higher degree of customer satisfaction with indie published titles as being a fluke or an aberration, that wouldn’t be the smart approach to take.

I’ve titled this post “Will 2014 be the Year of the Indie?” I don’t think indie authors are going to take over publishing and dominate the field, but I think they could make some significant strides in capturing more of the market, especially if reader satisfaction with indie published titles continues to be greater in 2014.

What do you think?

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