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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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