Posted on August 7, 2013 in Archive

The world’s first digital book ranking


The Bookseller has announced that it will release a monthly digital book ranking, with the help of data directly provided to the magazine by trade publishers in the UK.In the past, the book industry has been unforthcoming with useful information about digital book sales, such as how many copies of a particular book were sold in a certain period, or how many were sold in total.

Aside from data from consumer surveys, publishers’ financial statements, and bestseller charts, there is very little evidence regarding the exact size or behaviour of the digital book market.

For example, a commonly advertised statistic in the UK is that the digital book market has grown to make up almost 30% of some publishers’ business.

While this information is definitely insightful, it isn’t nearly concrete or comprehensive enough.

The same story applies in the US, where the digital book market is even bigger than in the UK. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both run digital book charts, but they lack solid numbers.

All of the information available is based on superficial data and is focused on how digital book sales are tracking compared to print books.

There has been a global oversight in regards to the difference between digital and print books and a failure to recognize them as separate entities.

As such, there is no third party responsible for monitoring the market and reporting back to publishers, retailers, and consumers with relevant information.

The Bookseller’s ranking is an attempt to address this gap, and is exciting because it is the first of its kind in the world.

Digital book ranking - Screen shot of The Bookseller's June 2013 ranking

The Bookseller’s first ranking paints an interesting picture about UK reading habits


Editor of The Bookseller, Philip Jones, said:

Getting accurate sales data for this rapidly growing section of the market is vital, and we hope the monthly ranking will begin the process of shining a much needed light on how digital is reshaping the book business.

What is it?

The ranking will be a monthly analysis of the Top 50 titles sold in the UK, i.e. Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It will focus on providing an exhaustive picture of the industry by matching Nielsen data concerning the print market.

The ranking will showcase the highest selling digital books each month and The Bookseller hopes that it will allow them to track sales growth over time, and consequently make predictions about the market.

How does it work?

The ranking will be based on statistics supplied by publishers, as well as data provided by Nielsen’s BookScan.

It will eliminate heavily discounted books and those selling for less than £2 from the catalogue – an approach that is in line with how other digital book charts operate. For example, the Wall Street Journal excludes free books and any priced below 99c.

Who’s involved?

So far, the big publishers who have agreed to provide data are: Penguin Random House; Hachette; Harper Collins; Pan Macmillan Bloomsbury; and Simon and Schuster.

Canongate and Faber have also joined the initial panel, which means that the first lot of publishers represents 51% of the print book market.

What are the drawbacks?

Again, there’s no third party monitoring of the publisher-supplied statistics, which means that The Bookseller is reliant on the honesty and timeliness of the publishers involved.

The elimination of heavily discounted and free books from the ranking potentially removes some of the best selling digital books. Discounting books is much more common in digital bookstores and a lot of the reduced books spend a long time below £2.

Likewise, discounted books have a tendency to sell much better than in a print format and by removing these sales figures from the data, The Bookseller is possibly misrepresenting the market.

Whilst impressive, the panel of contributing publishers isn’t as complete as most people would like it to be. Some of the biggest selling digital book retailers, including Amazon and Kobo are missing from the bill and without their data; we can’t get a clear picture of sales trends.

Until the ranking can incorporate data that represents 100% of the market, The Bookseller’s analysis will be open to criticism and skepticism.

Self-published digital books are also left out of the ranking, which again excludes a significant chunk of the market. More and more authors are opting to self-publish their books digitally because they can see the benefits of digital publishing.

What are the results so far?

The June ranking saw Sylvia Day’s erotic novel, Entwined With You come in at number one best selling digital book.

It sold more than 200, 000 digital copies, which was even more than the print copies sold.

12 out of the 50 titles that made the list sold more digital copies than print, including another two erotic books (clearly people are thrilled about being able to discreetly indulge in naughty novels!)

The Bookseller estimates that the digital book market was worth £17.6m in June, which equates to about 19% of the overall book market.

Though tardy and unpolished, The Bookseller’s ranking is a promising move for the industry.

Most stats up until now have been concerned with revenue, which is important, but nowhere near as juicy as hard data.

Hopefully more publishers and retailers (and ideally independent third parties) jump on board, and industry bodies around the globe start to implement similar ranking systems.

It’s high time the publishing industry became more transparent about digital and divulged more data.