A Look Back On 1001 German Books Sold

Today, I cross the threshold of thousand German language books sold. Okay, it’s actually 1001, because sales tend to come in clumps and don’t care about round numbers or metrics.

I currently have 13 German language books available with more on the way. For comparison, when I crossed the thousand books sold threshold for all books, English anhd German, together, I had 67 titles available. The German language market is smaller and unlike Amazon.com, less flooded with content, including outright scam books clickfarmed to the top of the charts. The Amazon.de site includes little to no sponsored “pay to play” ads and their algorithms seem to be different as well, so they drop-off after 30, 60 and 90 days is not quite so strong. Der Lohn des Henkers, for example, just crossed the 60 days after publication mark and is still in the top 20 for its subgenre at Amazon Germany. What is more, the German market has a few advertising sites, but no Book Bub or similar advertising newsletters. In short, the playing field is smaller and much more level, therefore it’s easier for a book to gain visibility and the attendant sales.

As with previous milestones, let’s take a look at the retailer breakdown:

Amazon DE: 87.2%
Tolino (store unspecified): 5.1%
Kobo: 2.3%
Amazon.com: 1.1%
Apple: 1%
Weltbild: 0.9%
Thalia: 0.5%
XinXii: 0.4%
Scribd: 0.2%
Libreka: 0.2%
Casa del Libro: 0.2%
Barnes & Noble: 0.2%
Feedbooks: 0.2%
Amazon UK: 0.1%
Amazon FR: 0.1%
Hugendubel: 0.1%
Osiander: 0.1%
Der Club: 0.1%
Smashwords: 0.1%

It’s notable that compared to the the general sales breakdown, where Amazon.com and Amazon DE had each dropped to about a quarter of my total sales at last count, my German language sales are much more Amazon-dominated. Part of this is due to the fact that the other big player in the German language market, Tolino, is much more oriented towards traditionally published books. What is more, I had two books catch Amazon algorithm magic in the Amazon DE store, which led to strong sales for several months in a row. So yes, Amazon algorithm magic is lovely when it happens. Though you shouldn’t count on it.

Tolino, Germany’s answer to Amazon’s Kindle, is in second place with 5.1% on its own. If you add in the various Tolino alliance stores which are counted separately (depending on the distributor, Tolino sales are either counted together under the Tolino banner or the individual stores are listed), that is Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Osiander’sche Buchhandlung and Der Club, the Tolino alliance makes up 6.7% of my total German language sales. This is a far cry from the alleged 45% share of the German market that the Tolino alliance supposedly holds. Though it’s notable that the last concrete figures about Tolino’s versus Amazon’s marketshare that we have are from 2015, which suggests that there might be a kernel of truth to the rumours that Tolino is losing marketshare to Amazon.

Still, my Tolino sales are a lot lower than they should be, considering Tolino’s share of the German e-book market, which mirrors what I’ve heard from other German indies. There are a couple of reasons for this. The Tolino alliance stores are more geared towards traditionally published books. Tolino users are more conservative, since early adopters of e-books in Germany usually opted for Kindle, Kobo, Medion and a couple of now defunct readers, whereas Tolino attracted the later adopters. Quite a few Tolino owners don’t actually buy a lot of books, but use their Tolino reader to read library books or – it must be said – pirated e-books.

Kobo is in third place, which isn’t that surprising, because I’ve always done well at Kobo. And besides, Kobo is probably the most internationally oriented of the big e-book vendors. Apple is also internationally oriented, but unfortunately not all that interested in selling e-books, though they still land in fifth place.

I was a bit surprised that Amazon.com landed in fourth place with 1.1%. However, it should be remembered that Amazon.com is not only the US national Amazon store, but also where every country or territory that does not have its own Kindle store buys its e-books. Of the other international Amazons, Amazon UK and Amazon France make up 0.1% of my total sales each. Now the market for German language books is mostly concentrated in the German speaking world, i.e. Germany, Austria, part of Switzerland and small parts of Belgium, France, Italy and Romania as well as whatever is left of other German speaking enclaves scattered throughout Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, I do get the occasional sale of a German language book outside the German speaking world. This includes the Amazon.com, Amazon UK and Amazon France sales as well as the sales at Barnes & Noble, which operates only in the US, and the Spanish e-book store Casa del Libro. I also recall that I sold a German language e-book in Turkey once via Kobo. As far as I know (because sometimes they contact me), the people who buy German language books are German expats eager for books in their mother tongue, people around the world who learn German as well as German speaking people living in places like Alsace-Lorraine and the Eupen/Malmedy area, both of which are covered by Amazon France.

XinXii used to be a really good market for me, but sales there have been dropping there for a while and it now only makes up 0.4% of my German sales. My English laguage books do well at Scribd and Smashwords, but my German language sales there are positively anaemic. Even though both platforms are theoretically international, sales seem to be mostly concentrated in the English language market.

The final two smaller vendors are Feedbooks and Libreka. I’m not quite sure what Feedbooks is, though I occasionally sell books there via StreetLib. Meanwhile, Libreka used to be the e-book distribution platform of the German publishers and booksellers’ association, until they sold it a while back. Considering how very hostile to indies the German publishers and booksellers association is, I’m surprised they let us into Libreka at all, even via a distributor like StreetLib.

So let’s take a look at the rankings of the individual books:

1. Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu
2. Der Lohn des Henkers
3. Unter der Knute
4. Der Kuss des Richtschwertes
5. Gesetzlose Liebe
6. Unter dem Galgen
7. Honigtopf
8. Last-Minute-Geschenke
9. Kurierdienst
10. Familienkutsche
11. Auf der anderen Seite des Vorhangs
12. Die Liebe in den Zeiten des Frischkornmüslis
13. Reiche Beute

The pattern is pretty obvious here. Historical fiction and romance clearly sells best, with everything else selling less well. Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu and Der Lohn des Henkers are actually my number 1 and 2 top-selling titles of all time. Both caught Amazon algorithm magic, which caused their sales to explode. Both stories sell well in English, too, though not nearly as well as in German.

So why did these particular stories catch on? For starters, both stories are set in Germany, but then so are Die Liebe in den Zeiten des Frischkornmüslis and Auf der anderen Seite des Vorhangs as well as the untranslated Albrecht the Nightmare and those don’t sell nearly as well. So it’s not as simple as the fact that German audiences like German settings, though that certainly plays a role.

In the case of Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu and the English version Christmas Eve at the Purple Owl Café (which also sells really well, though not quite as well as in German), it’s simply that sweet contemporary lesbian romance, particularly sweet contemporary lesbian holiday romance is an underserved niche. It’s an even more underserved niche in the German market, hence the story hit the top of Amazon Germany’s lesbian fiction charts, which caused the algorithms to kick in.

As for Der Lohn des Henkers, the English version Hangman’s Wages sells decently, but not spectacularly. The German version, on the other hand, just took off. So what’s different? For starters, Germans love historical fiction and historical romance. In the English speaking world, historical fiction is usually subsumed under the big umbrella of literary fiction rather than being considered its own genre with its own bookstore section like in Germany. As for romance, the most popular subgenre in the English speaking world currently is contemporary romance of the tattooed bad boy variety, complete with bare chested and curiously unattractive dudes on the cover. And those in the English speaking world who like historical romance tend to like Regencies or Victorian set romances, whereas for historical fiction the Tudor period as well as the 20th century are popular, though of late there seems to be an increased interest in stories about slavery and the American Civil War.

Germans, however, at least those that like historical fiction and historical romance, really love medieval set stories. They’ll also happily read 17th century set fiction – the current German fiction bestseller list includes three historical novels, a Tudor era novel, a Thirty Years War set novel and a Victorian set YA historical – but you’ll find a lot fewer popular historical novels set after approx. 1700, though there are a few 19th century set ones. 20th century historicals are popular, but they’re usually marketed as literary fiction and family sagas, not as historical fiction and appeal to a different readership. For example, during the latest edition of the German literature TV program Das Literarische Quartett (four critics discuss four novels, for more see here) one of the novels discussed was Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, one of the biggest living German language historical novelists. Tyll takes the medieval trickster figure of Till Eulenspiegel, a character every German schoolkid knows, and transplants him into the Thirty Years War. Two of the critics on the program did not like the novel at all, because they did not care to read about a period so far removed from our own time (“What does this have to do with my life?”) and also because the Thirty Years War was too brutal for their tastes (“Why do I need to read about that? I learned about the Thirty Years War at university and that was enough”). Meanwhile, the same critics praised a 20th century family saga in the very same episode. So in short, German readers of pre-1900 historical fiction and German readers of 20th century set historical fiction are completely different demographics was little overlap.

Coincidentally, I’m not surprised that Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll is both critically acclaimed and popular in Germany. Because German readers of historical fiction and historical romance really like epic, broad canvas adventures with a lot of gritty details. Indeed, early exposure to that kind of historical fiction and historical romance also influences what I write. My historicals are grittier and more violent than the vast majority of English language historical romances. There are exceptions of course and I have read some excellent and gritty English language historical romances. But the most popular English language historical romances often strike me as kind of bland.

Der Lohn des Henkers a.k.a. Hangman’s Wages is a short historical romance set in Medieval Germany. The protagonists are an executioner and the young thief he is supposed to hang. In short, it’s a story that hits the sweet spot for many German readers of historical romance, but doesn’t really match the tastes of those American historical romance readers who’d rather read about a penniless maiden nabbing a Duke while waltzing at Almack’s. So it’s no surprise that Der Lohn des Henkers does well at Amazon Germany, though I did not expect it to take off like it did.

So that’s it for statistics neepery and sales analysis for today. Here’s to the next thousand German books.

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