The invisible ebook market redux: the ebook market is bigger than we realise, and subscription pays.

Earlier this week I took a look at the (honestly presented) AAP figures for the US book market and alluded to a vast but unquantified number of ebook downloads and sales that happen off the radar of the stats counters that purport to tell us the size of the book markets.

In doing so I noted that in 2020 Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service paid out royalties to the value of $377 million, mostly to self-published authors.

We can assert this confidently because Amazon has its KEP (Kindle Enterprise Publishing) for participating mainstream publishers and for its own APub imprints, and these authors/publishers are paid out by downloaded unit, not pages read as happens with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) which is used by self-publishers and small presses that do not meet KEP requirements.

KDP publishers receive a share, based on the number of pages parsed by subscribers, of a monthly pot that is set (after the fact) by Amazon, reflecting the amount of money paid in by subscribers minus the unknown share Amazon takes for itself.

The monthly “pot” payouts are announced each month by Amazon, and as this post goes to press the March 2021 figures are the most recent available. In March 2021 the “KU pot” was worth $35.4 million. That’s global, not just USA, but we can safely assume the bulk is derived from US downloads from the US Kindle Unlimited store.

Totting up the numbers since January 2018 it transpires Kindle Unlimited – and remember this is just KDP-KU so quite separate from royalty payouts to APub authors and mainstream publishers in KU, and also entirely separate from à la carte retail sales of ebooks on Amazon – totalled $1,051,200,000.

So much for the notion that subscription doesn’t pay.

One can only begin to imagine how many ebook sales that equates to, but clearly these numbers, even without the à la carte retail sales of ebooks on Amazon (and on Apple, Nook, Kobo, Google Play…).

And let’s not forget digital library ebook downloads. US-based digital library supplier OverDrive in 2020 handled over 430 million digital downloads, of which 138 million were audiobooks and 289 million were ebooks).

These numbers – that are not included in the US AAP and UK PA presentations – show consumer demand for digital reading to be way above what we are led to believe when we are shown only the AAP or UK PA figures with their print focus and (in the case of the UK’s Publishers Association this year) disingenuous presentation.