It’s not new news that ebook sales are growing faster than sales of traditional paper book. Yet for the first time, ebook sales have exceeded hardcover sales; first quarter (2012) ebook sales were $282 million compared to $230 million for hardcover books. Not too surprisingly (to me at least), these new sales appear to have come at the expense of paperback books, sales of which dropped nearly 21%. Hardcover books still seem maintain a certain “value” beyond the story itself, and I think people who buy them are seeking something they can keep and display in addition the words they contain, something that cannot be had with an ebook and, to a lesser extent, a paperback book.
This trend of increasing ebook sales is partially driven by the emergence of global ebook markets. A recent report from the Association of American Publishers looked at global trends in book sales from 2010 to 2011, and it documented large increases in ebook sales in Europe (+219%) , Latin America (+202%), and Africa (+637%). Even better news for American publishers was that all sales were up, even traditional paper books, although at a much smaller rate.
This global increase could be attributed to several things. The growing prevalence of the internet has allowed consumers in other countries to access more titles than in the past. American publishers have also increased their global marketing efforts. Finally, English continues to increase as an important second language, which has widened the audience and increased the demand for English language books.
I’ve also benefited from the increasing global market. In the first quarter of 2012, over 11% of my site visitors came from non-US countries, including non-English speaking countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. I find this a startling figure, yet encouraging.
While the publishing industry is undergoing rapid change, it still seems to be growing, so perhaps all the doomsaying about the death of publishing is actually overstated. Ebooks are beginning to outpace traditional paper books, which bodes well for both the traditional industry provided they can shift their business model to take advantage of it and for independent publishers. This is also encouraging news for new and emerging writers, who now have multiple potential avenues through which to market their work.