Does Delaying Ebook Releases Help Improve Print Book Sales?

Since the launch of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader, book publishers have debated when ebook editions of their books should be released relative to their hardcover and paperback versions. Some publishers have been concerned that releasing ebooks together with hardcovers would hurt sales of higher priced print books. Digital platforms such as Amazon, however, claim that ebooks do not cannibalize print sales but rather represent mostly incremental sales.

In the article “The Impact of eBook Distribution on Print Sales: Analysis of a Natural Experiment” by Hailiang Chen, Yu Jeffrey Hu, and Michael D. Smith, the authors study this problem by analyzing how delaying the release of ebooks impacts both hardcover sales and ebook sales. They find that delaying ebook availability results in a significant decrease in ebook sales but no increase in print book sales on or among other online or offline retailers. They also find that the decrease in ebook sales is greater for books with less pre-release buzz.

The key implication is that the strategy of delaying the release of ebooks could do more harm than good as it does not increase physical sales but significantly reduces digital sales. It is possible that ebooks and print books appeal to separate markets. Consumers may form strong channel or format preferences between physical and digital products, as well as strong platform preferences among different digital providers.

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Chen H, Hu YJ, Smith MD (2019). The Impact of eBook Distribution on Print Sales: Analysis of a Natural Experiment. Management Science 65(1):19-31.