As usual, our users are ahead of us. While we’ve been debating and cogitating on the future of e-books, they’ve gone mainstream.

According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), sales of e-books grew 173% year-to-year for January 2008-2009.

Growth in e-book sales
Growth in e-book sales

Annualized, this means e-books are tracking to surpass $100 million in sales in 2009.

According to an excellent analysis at Publetariat, this is overly conservative because it’s a linear extrapolation of January’s number. There is a strong growth rate to account for. Once you do this, even cautiously, you see that e-books are charting a course for $150 million year in sales.

Most importantly, these are titles that are actually sold, not consignment copies subject to returns and warehousing and sitting on shelves in bookstores. That makes a big difference in revenue terms — e-books provide a much better cash flow.

Also, with the rapid proliferation of smartphones and e-book readers, there is an ecosystem to support e-books unlike any we’ve ever seen before.

So, even though they only account for 6% of the total publishing industry, e-books might hit their stride in 2009. Publishers seeking efficiency, audience, and cash on the barrel head should do more than just pay attention.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


4 Thoughts on "Are e-Books Already Mainstream?"

It’s interesting that the “data represent only data submitted from approx. 12 to 15 trade publishers” and “The data does not include library, educational or professional electronic sales”. So this is really only a slice of total e-books.

what kristen said.

and a note from the pov of ‘a’ consumer:

– the e-book market has changed recently, as itemized in the post above.
– acquisition of available e-titles is nearly effortless.
– for now, the kindle, and in the future probably all e-readers, have/will have on-board dictionaries and device-wide keyword searchability = considerable value added to the experience.

add to that list:
– that the quality of a great many print editions in our world is frankly awful — brittle glue bindings, bad paper, narrow margins and gutters, etc.
– that a ‘print-on-demand’ publishing model could well reduce ‘demand’ for print by reducing the specialness of the print version (not sure such can even be called an ‘edition’, since at that point it would be no more than a bound printout)..

i would expect publishers to at least experiment with launching electronic versions of texts prior to committing to a print run, to check the pulse of the reading public; but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see sales of beautifully-designed e-editions surpass those of print copies within not too many years. in any case, it seems clear that the book publishing world is going to experience a large shift of some kind. if nothing else, those print editions that continue to exist may need to be of especially fine quality to even be marketable; in which case i would predict significant price increases for print.

with luck and appropriate involvement of the right people, things will eventually work out to the best advantage of all concerned; but it seems clear that ownership vs. licensing, and access/drm questions will probably continue to loom for some time, even as e-publishing continues to grow.

Print’s aesthetics have been terribly degraded by some publishers who seem to have applied the same logic newsrooms did, which is that less news made for a more profitable (and therefore better) newspaper. They saved themselves poor. I’ve posted before on the value of print aesthetics and how recapturing that level of craft is a hidden opportunity. But mistaking print-on-demand with a “bound printout” is a mistake. There are actually some very lovely POD books around — full color, great illustrations, great stories. More and more niche children’s titles are created this way, for instance. When I self-published my own novel, I worked very carefully to make sure that the cover, interior layout, and font choices were all above the norm (balanced left-to-right layouts according to traditional page dimensions, serifed fonts at the right size and leading, etc.). Commercial publishers have largely given up on aesthetics, especially in paperbacks, but they make a huge difference.

One problem with e-books is that the aesthetics are owned by the device. That cuts the author, the publisher, the designers out of the aesthetic equation.

It may not matter today, but ultimately e-readers will have to support differential aesthetics to succeed.

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