October sales and some observations about the German e-book market

First of all, here are my October sales figures. In October 2011, I sold 8 e-books across all platforms. The detailed breakdown is as follows:

Amazon US: 5
Amazon UK: 1
OmniLit/AllRomance ebooks: 2

This makes October a miserable month, even worse than August. Though the month actually started off well saleswise. But then, in the last two weeks of the month, my sales just stopped and never bounced back. Other indie authors also report a sudden drop off of sales in October. The suspected culprit is a big sale of traditionally published e-books at Amazon US to promote the new Kindles.

Luckily, November started out pretty good, so hopefully it will be better.

And now for something slightly different: Ever since the Frankfurt Book Fair, I have been waiting for current figures regarding the market share of e-books in Germany. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything other than the 0.7 percent share that we have been hearing reported since last year or so.

However, I came across this article from Börsenblatt, the magazine of the German booksellers’ association, in which Michael Busch, CEO of the biggest German bookselling chain Thalia, offers his prognosis for the future.

Busch predicts a market share of e-books in Germany of 3 to 4 percent in late 2012 and of 10 percent in 2014. Which would definitely indicate growth, but is still a far cry from the current e-book market share in the US let alone the share predicted for 2014. Of course, there is always the possibility that Busch is wrong. He wouldn’t be the first.

Nonetheless, Thalia is not planning to wait for its brick and mortar business to erode. They are planning expansions in the online and e-book business and have formed an alliance with 10 European bookselling chains, including Waterstone’s. Good for them, since I like both Thalia and Waterstone’s and would hate to lose them.

What I don’t like, however, is Busch’s announcement that he plans to reduce the floor space devoted to books in Thalia‘s brick and mortar stores and instead wants to remodel the stores in an “inspirational and event-oriented way”, which apparently means fewer books and more DVDs, toys, games, stationery, gifts, etc…

Do you know what inspires me and is an event for me? Visiting a bookstore. A big, wonderful bookstore with shelves upon shelves of books. I don’t need or want any of that other crap – I go into a bookstore to buy books. And I prefer my bookstore focused on books. I’m not even a fan of cafés in bookstores – if I want a coffee I’ll head to a dedicated coffeehouse where the selection is better anyway. Indeed, my favourite Bremen coffeehouse, Café Knigge, is located directly next to a Thalia store. Three guesses where I drink my coffee.

Not that some stores can’t make the books plus something else mix work for them. For example, Lesezeichen, a regional chain with stores in smaller towns in North West Germany, already offers maybe 50 to 60 percent gifts and home decor products and 50 to 40 percent books. But the Lesezeichen stores have done this for years and the gifts and home decor products they sell are actually nice. When I enter a Lesezeichen store, I look at all the knickknacks they sell (I’ve even bought a few), because their knickknacks are beautiful, high-quality products.

Now Thalia already sells stationery (because they bought up the Grüttefin chain, which focused as much on stationery as on books – you can always tell which used to be a Grüttefin shop, because they have so much more stationery). They also sell DVDs, toys, gifts, kitchen supplies, esoteric supplies like tarot cards, calendars, etc… I rarely look at the stuff, but as long as I get the books that I want, it doesn’t bother me either.

However – and this is potentially troubling – if they were to reduce floorspace to cram in more non-book crap, they won’t cut the shelf space in the travel book or diet book section (Who buys travel guides anyway? In the age of the internet, you don’t need them). No, what will suffer are the academic books, the foreign language books and other “exotic” sections – i.e. the parts of the store where I am most likely to hang out.

There was a smaller Thalia store in a mall that I used to visit quite frequently while I was at university, because I passed it in the way home. I bought quite a lot of books there over the years, too. Then, when I went back after a few months (once I graduated, the shop was no longer quite so convenient) the book section had shrunk to a few bestsellers and kids’ book, the foreign language section (which had been very good for a mall bookstore) was gone altogether and more than half of the floorspace was filled with stationery.

I grabbed a bookseller and asked her what happened to the foreign language section. They got rid of it to sell more stationery, she said, because foreign language books weren’t selling. “Well, I bought foreign language books”, I told the woman, “I bought a lot of books at your store. But you’ve just lost me as a customer, because you’re no longer carrying anything I want. If I want to buy stationery, I’ll go a hundred meters down the road to Staples, where it’s a lot cheaper.”

Okay, so that was probably mean, though nothing compared to the verbal smackdown I laid upon the person behind the counter at a local pharmacy which ripped out its beautiful vintage fifties interior to make the store look “light and modern”. Besides, converting a bookstore into a stationery store, when there’s a Staples within walking distance, is just plain stupid.

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3 Responses to October sales and some observations about the German e-book market

  1. Pingback: Midweek Writing Links | Cora Buhlert

  2. Estara says:

    That sounds a lot like what Barnes & Noble are doing in the US… Well, I have to admit since Amazon arrived, I have bought my English books mostly online – first in print and now in e. I’m actually glad that ebooks allow me to spread the wealth a bit more evenly. But apart from my time at university I never lived in a town which had a good English book selection in its stores.

    • Cora says:

      I buy most of my English books at Amazon as well, but I still buy the more popular authors as well as the occasional browsing find at Thalia, since I want brick and mortar stores to survive. Luckily, Bremen is pretty well served with English language bookstores, though it’s mostly just chains these days.

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