To ensure the increasing popularity of e-books (currently more than 20% of all book sales worldwide are e-books), never undermine the success of their printed counterparts. Publishers frequently delay the digital publication date for several weeks after the print edition has been released. However, new research in the INFORMS journal Management Science, found that delaying the sale of the e-version of a new book does not lead to increased print sales – and can actually result in significantly fewer e-book sales (a nearly 50% decrease) once the digital version is made available. “Publishers face the challenge of selling books in both print and digital formats,” said study author Hailiang Chen of City University of Hong Kong. “On one hand, e-book platform providers like Amazon claim that e-books don’t impact print sales, while on the other hand, publishers worry that because e-books offer the same content as their printed counterparts but at a lower price, that they will ‘cannibalize’ print book sales.”
The new study, The Impact of E-book Distribution on Print Sales: Analysis of a Natural Experiment, was conducted by Chen, as well as Yu Jeffrey Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Michael Smith of Carnegie Mellon University. Over a 20-week period in 2010, the researchers evaluated 182 fiction and non-fiction books, 83 of which had both their digital (either Kindle or Amazon) and print versions published at the same time, and 99 of which had their print version published first, followed by the digital version released to Kindle and Amazon, between one and eight weeks later.
Among the books whose digital versions were delayed on Kindle, the researchers found a 48.2% decrease in Kindle sales once the digital version was released, compared to books whose digital and print versions were released simultaneously. On Amazon, where consumers can typically purchase both printed and digital copies of books, the researchers found virtually no increase in the sale of printed volumes when the digital version was delayed. In addition, the authors didn’t see an increase in sales of these books on other digital platforms (such as Apple’s iBooks store), which would imply that consumers who traditionally use Kindle or Amazon won’t switch reading platforms in order to access a new title.