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E-books Outsold Hard Covers in Adult Fiction: What Does It Mean?

It was both stunning and expected—the recent news that e-books outsold hard covers in the adult fiction category in 2011, according to a report co-produced by the Association of American Publishers (AAR) and the Book Industry Study Group, based on sales figures provided by 2,000 publishers.

It was stunning because it was one of those watershed statistics, never before achieved and unimaginable just ten years ago. It was expected because publishing industry observers knew the day would come when e-books became the preferred mode for the majority of consumers, even if it is happening in just one category at the moment.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Net sales of e-books jumped to 15 percent of the market in 2011, up from six percent in 2010
  • Overall, U.S. book market sales declined by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, down from $2.79 billion in 2010.
  • Majority of publishers’ revenues still come from print books at $11 billion, compared to $2 billion from e-books.
  • In the adult fiction category, e-books accounted for 30 percent of total net publishers’ sales, compared to a 13 percent share the year before.
  • Online retailers represented 13 percent of total net dollars, but grew by 35 percent from the year before.

Read a summary of the report on the AAR site

Read more about the report on the BookStats site

Here’s a good analysis of the report by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World site.

Greenfield noted two interesting facts in his story. For the first quarter of 2012, e-books represented 25 percent of all sales in trade fiction. He also pointed out the BookStats report found that publishers made over $1 billion selling directly to consumers in 2011, up from $702 million in 2010.

What do all these statistics mean for authors? Clearly, e-books will continue to grow in market share, as some analysts predict they will eventually dwarf sales of print books. The report also shows publishers are still making a heck of a lot of money. The industry is healthy, but undergoing change. Though revenues dipped by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, much of that could be attributed to the demise of Borders, as well as a slew of independent bookstores. Traditional publishing remains the most viable option for authors to achieve success. However, readers are flocking to e-books and that bodes well for authors whose only route to publication is self-publishing. Of course the self-published writer must shoulder all of the editorial, platform building and marketing burden.

It behooves writers to pay attention to what’s going on in the publishing industry. Writers should also watch what goes on around them. More and more of my friends are buying Kindles, Nooks and iPads. Lovers of traditional books (like me) have a dual mindset. I still read printed books, but I also read many books on my Kindle. When I travel, I carry a paperback and my Kindle.

The publishing world continues to change at a rapid pace. The good news is there is so much diversity of content available and that bodes well for reader and writers.

What’s your opinion of the changes taking place within the publishing industry?

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