A Perspective on E-Book Sales Trends

E-book sales in fiction leaped by 42 percent in 2012 over the year before, to $1.8 billion, according to a recent publishing industry report. Non-fiction sales of e-books rose by 22 percent, to $484.2 million, while e-book sales in the children’s and young adult categories rose by 117 percent to $469.2 million, according to BookStats, the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. The survey included data from 1,500 publishers, including the six major trade houses.

While sales from bricks and mortar bookstores continue to make up the bulk of publishers’ revenue at $7.5 billion, that figure is a seven percent drop. Revenue from online retailers like Amazon, the biggest player in the market, shot up by 21 percent to 6.9 percent of total revenues. This was the first year-long look at the industry since the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders bookstore chain.

Sales of downloadable audio-books enjoyed a 22 percent increase in revenues in 2012 compared to 2011 (from $197.7 million to $240.7 million). Publishers saw the increase as the result of the widespread use of mobile devices.

None of these numbers should come as a surprise to those who closely follow the publishing industry. Let’s look at what the numbers mean for writers and for readers. For both groups the key words are choice and accessibility. Writers who can’t crack the Big Six (and that’s most of us) have options to publish their work. And those options are affordable. A writer can upload a novel to Amazon in minutes at no cost, though I strongly recommend investing in a book editor and a graphic designer. Readers can read the work of a dizzying array of writers—not limited to the best-selling authors, but talented indie writers.

This is an amazing time to be a writer or a reader (or both). The downside of the ease of publishing a book is that anyone can do it, from accomplished writers to hacks and neophytes with no writing skills. The proliferation of hastily written, sloppy books makes it difficult for good writers to break through all the clutter. For readers, it’s an equally steep challenge to find literary gold in the new online slush pile.

So what does the future hold for readers and writers? Here are a few predictions to consider:

• E-book sales will continue to rise, but will level off at some point. Some experts say they will reach 50 percent of all sales, but I believe e-books will climb even higher than that.
• Dislocation and mergers will continue in the publishing industry, making it even harder for unpublished writers to land a contract.
• Successful indie or self-pubbed writers will be those who are prolific and can create an effective and far-reaching marketing apparatus. Marketing, more than content, is king when it comes to achieving success in e-book sales.
• Bookstores will continue to close. Those that survive will be the bookstores that can deliver value and a unique customer experience that will engender loyalty.

What about you? Where do you see the publishing industry heading in the years to come?


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10 responses to “A Perspective on E-Book Sales Trends

  1. Although I have a kindle I still prefer the physical novel. The texture of a novel fills with me with a sense of optimism, suspense and escapism. I think in 30 years time hard copy books and bookshops will be obsolete. What you never have you never miss, kids who have not yet found the job of bookshops will love the kindle store the way we love the bookshops. Those of us still reading novels will be seen as vandals hacking through rain-forests when Kindle does it quicker, cleaner and eco-friendlier. Thanks for your blog.

    • Olive,
      Thanks for your comment. I went kicking and screaming from my books, but I now have a Kindle. I still take a lot of books out of the library. There’s nothing like holding a book in your hands. I hope at least a few bookstores can make a go of it in the future. Thanks for stopping by.

    • I went kicking and screaming from books to the Kindle and I still take a lot of books out of the library. There’s nothing like holding a book in your hands. I suppose many bookstores will close in the years ahead, but I hope a few can make a go of it. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. It’s not easy for everyone to read Kindle, luckily for me. And you can’t take a Kindle into the tub! Well, not wisely.

    • I’ve never tried reading the Kindle in the tub, but them again, I’m rather risk-averse. Thanks for your comment.

      • Rhooop

        A comment and a suggestion …

        I read a Kindle whenever I can because of vision problems (macular degeneration, for which magnification is the only useful workaround). Kindle’s DX model gives me the most manageable visual real estate that still fits in the hand.

        With those of a certain age increasing their numbers for many years while experiencing all sorts of vision-diminishing problems along the way, I’m guessing that e-books that allow for simple magnification to become increasingly popular, simply because they’re easier to see.

        A suggestion: have you thought much about how fiction might be written so as to maximize its ability to be read out loud AND easily understood by a listener?

        Over 35 years of reading novels out loud (to my wife, to my children), I’ve almost never found anything “modern” that can be read out loud and also easily understood by a listener. Changes of speaker, changes of scene, changes between speech spoken by a character and thoughts by that character which are merely his own thoughts, not spoken out loud to another character — these sorts of things are invariably signaled to a reader by visual, typographical clues, quotation marks, for example, or the use of italics, or paragraph changes. None of these are available to a listener.

        Even for a reader, many of these changes become difficult to discern in a long passage of dialogue between even two characters, where change of speaker is indicated by a new paragraph. And, when there are three characters, the potential for confusion escalates!

        The only way round this problem for reading out loud is for the reader to add “he said” or “she said” or “Joe Blow said” and the like, at least every once in a while, to enable the listener to know that one speaker has stopped and another speaker has begun.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You raise a host of interesting issues. With technological advances it is possible for an author to add all sorts of enhanced content to their e-books. I would love to have the time to record one of my books (though I don’t like reading my work out loud) and we as writers must be cognizant that our readers receive our work in different ways. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Pingback: A Perspective on E-Book Sales Trends | The New Teacher Project

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