Saturday, 16 April 2011

Press Release Your Luck | Kindle is King as E-Book Sales Soar

The Association of American Publishers has reported that e-books are on the rise, bringing in more revenue during the month of February than any of the other categories the AAP monitor. Dollar for dollar, more money was made by EPUBs and Nook Books and Kindle editions, in cumulative terms, than by either hardcovers, paperbacks or mass market editions.

A watershed moment, and make no mistake.

Add to that the landmark percentage growth e-book sales have demonstrated year on year: this February e-books earned more than $90m, a triple-figure rise of 202.3% versus sales in February 2010. 

Yet hand-in-hand with every rise, a fall, and traditional dead tree texts have borne the brunt of the increased demand for e-books this February. The combined adult trade categories - to reiterate, that's hardcovers, paperbacks and mass market PBs - are down more than a third compared to sales from the same period in 2010. And we wonder why the likes of Borders and Waterstones are in such hot water...

However all is not lost: though printed literature has taken a substantial hit - another on top of another, in fact - such products still handily outsell e-books at a ratio of 2:1, a relatively comfortable margin for the moment. Certainly it will seem a comfortable margin a year from now if these trends continue, as indeed they appear set to.

But all told, it's not game over just yet, and the AAP's report included a certain something we might take heart in, for though combined earnings from the children's and YA market have fallen, they've only fallen half as much as in the adult market: a dip of 16.1% as opposed to 34.4%. Tech savvy children, it seems, aren't quite so quick on the e-reading uptake as us 'dults.

...either that or they're reading adult e-books. Or else they're waiting for e-book readers to drop in price: even the cheapest Kindle would set them back in excess of $100, after all, and that's a fair bit of pocket money.

But enough doom and gloom. This is meant to be the cheery bit! And there are bright sides to all this miserable news - you just have to squint ever so slightly to see them:
  • Our children still like a good paper book.

  • Books fashioned from dead trees still outsell e-books 2:1.

  • And in total, the amount of money flowing through the publishing industry has held relatively steady - it's just that the proportions spent on this versus that are shifting rather significantly.

So. Good news? Bad news? Or not news?

I'd cast my vote for option four: all of the above. Way to take the diplomatic tack!



  1. I still prefer a good old-fashioned paper copy of a book to an ebook. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy ebooks also, and make good use of my Kindle. But there are places a paper book can go that my Kindle can't (like to my workplace, for example), and I like the feel of holding a book in my hands and turning pages rather than pressing a button.

    Still, ebooks have done wonders for accessibility of reading material, and the ability to carry around a whole library in your pocket isn't something to be sneezed at!

  2. I wonder if the picture wouldn't be a bit rosier if publishers hadn't switched to the agency model. I suspect it has cost publishers a lot. Personally, I bought many more books when they cost $9.99 or less. The new prices aren't a whole lot more, but they are outside impulse buy territory so I buy many fewer books. That's just my statistically-insignificant experience, but still, I expect it's not a rare one. Add that to the fact that publishers make less per book than they did with the old model, despite the higher prices. And consider that my buying the affordable first Mistborn book on the Kindle led to me buying many, many more books, such as the entire Wheel of Time series for Kindle (except ToM, because it costs too much and I have the audiobook). If Mistborn had been $15, I might have decided not to pick it up. Since I didn't buy the hardcover versions either, it just resulted in a lot less of my money going to publishers.

    While I root for e-books' acceptance, I still love libraries and bookstores and physical books. I don't want to actually read from them (see, but I do love them anyway. So I also wish booksellers well. I hope that e-books don't kill them off. My compromise is to buy physical books from local bookstores instead of Amazon as much as possible.

  3. I don't know what to think about eBooks. It looks like major league talent authors are experimenting with them, though, and it should get interesting as more find ways to use them. Jeff VanderMeer, for instance, has CheekyFrawg, an eBook-only imprint up and running, where he can "publish" things of all sorts of lengths at different price points very easily. It looks like J M McDermott has thrown a couple short stories onto Kindle, I Am Nature and Death Mask and Eulogy. Their covers suck, though. VanderMeer has better covers. I have to say that covers still matter.

    Companies seem to be springing up to put author backlists back into e-print, even for authors that don't want to be self-publishing their backlist themselves. I'm thinking of infinity plus, here. There's a lot of experimentation happening, and it's a really strange time to be a writer. Self-publishing has never made more sense, to me. And not by buying publication, but by doing free things that could lead to revenue. It's like the wild west across media. The iPad is unseating the console game devices. The internet is unseating cable and movie theaters. none of them know what they're doing, I bet. Even the agency model reeks of a transition period manipulation designed to keep publishers afloat until the fallout has time to ripple through to what the business models are going to become soon.

    *Squeak* I hardly ever comment anywhere. This is kind of scary, actually. I hope I didn't misspell anything.

  4. Indeed. Things are very much in flux; it'll be fascinating to see where we all go from here, how many steps there are between today and the day when everything - every last thing - lives in the cloud. I'm just old enough that the idea of that kind of terrifies me. Until Amazon makes a Kindle that comes with a musty odour I'll be steering quite clear of the thing, I think. But just because a thing's not for me right this second doesn't mean I can't get behind it: things like Cheeky Frawg Books are a bona fide delight. I'm very glad they can happen.

    And no stress, Mr Mouse: you did pretty good. Especially the spelling. I really do appreciate a good speller. ;)

  5. Or Mrs Mouse, or Miss, of course. Whichever you please really!