And so the electronic revolution continues, creatively destroying the book-selling world by driving down overheads, freeing authors from their vassalage to traditional publishers and tirelessly constructing a brave new world where expression is free, writers are rich and books are amazingly cheap.
Or so one might imagine while browsing the Internet, where companies that still produce paper books are known as "legacy publishers" – meaning they are hopelessly obsolete but just don't know it yet. Emerging data from actual skirmishes on sales floors suggests a radically different reality, however, with "legacy" publishers continuing to dominate even the online market.
Although stories of online upstarts striking it rich with self-published novels dominated news reports over the past year, very few made an impression on bestseller lists – even with the touted books priced at less than a dollar.
One exception is first-time author Darcie Chan, whose 97¢ novel The Mill River Recluse reached No. 4 on Amazon.com's list of the year's bestselling e-books and has also appeared among the top 25 bestselling e-books compiled weekly by The New York Times. Self-published author Chris Culver also made both lists with The Abbey, while romance veteran Barbara Freethy topped the list of bestselling e-books for the Nook reader by Barnes & Noble with A Secret Wish.
No such titles appear on the lists of bestselling e-books in Canada compiled by online reading service Kobo. The top self-published e-book on USA Today's list of combined print and electronic bestsellers is romance writer Catherine Bybee's 99¢ Wife by Wednesday at No. 35.
Exceptions notwithstanding, the first lists of e-book bestsellers are dominated by digital editions of physical books previously published by long-established conglomerates – and sold at prices far higher than the $9.99 limit that Amazon once tried to impose. Typical is Kathryn Stockett's The Help, selling for $12.40 on Amazon; and James Patterson's Kill Alex Cross, $12.99 at Kobo.
The result of all this selling: sustained profits at the Big Six conglomerates that dominate international publishing. Although sales of physical books are declining across the board, according to their most recent quarterly reports, digital is coming to the rescue. Typical was the Penguin Group, which reported a 4-per-cent drop in sales for the past six months, but "profits sustained with rapid digital growth."
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