Stories about the decline of print publishing often focus on newspapers and magazines, but following new data released by the Association of American Publishers last week, we might soon be hearing more than more about the decline of print book publishing.

According to the Association, e-books sales recently achieved a notable milestone: they are now selling at a faster clip than hardcovers, trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks individually.

In dollar terms, e-book sales tripled between February 2010 and February 2011, reaching just over $164m. Sales of all print formats combined, on the other hand, dropped nearly 25%, producing approximately $442m in sales.

The 25% drop might lead one to believe that book publishers are going the way of other unfortunate dead-tree publishers. But despite declining physical sales, the answer is 'probably not.' Whereas many newspapers, for instance, have permanently lost a good portion of their paying subscribers, the good news for book publishers is that they still have a product consumers are willing to pay for.

Obviously, there are challenges. Pricing, of course, is the big one. Self-published authors with a following can make a mint selling e-books at bargain basement prices, but publishers, with their much higher overhead costs, will have to make adjustments. Some may even need to revamp their business models entirely.

But survive the most adept will, and if e-book sales are any indication, they can check off from their lists "Find paying customers for our digital products." That may not seem like a lot, but ask any newspaper executive: it is.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 April, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)


Michael Madden

eBooks are much easier and cost effective to produce, in fact a competent author can get a title out there for nothing. There is then the possibility of giving away limitless free copies, again costing the author nothing, thereby getting the title "out there". Operation eBook Drop is another initiative that could only ever happen with eBooks, whereby authors can sign up to give away free downloads to our troops.

over 7 years ago


Joe Pelissier, Managing Director at Pelissier Communications

I think it is just the beginning.

The eBook is so versatile. On one level it can provide an easy to read story or piece of factual information, at another it introduce a new world of media rich interactivity and connectivity. That in itself offers publishers different pricing options.

It also appears that eBooks are equally appealing to the young as they are to 'silver surfers'.

over 7 years ago


Adam Allen, Director of US Sales & Marketing at Brodart Co.

To me, the eBook is/will be one of the most influential culture changing technologies of this decade. I'd rank it right up there with Smart Phones. The demand for this technology can be felt in B-to-C, B-to-B and B-to-I. eBook products and services have already penetrated the Higher Education market to a tune of 94% and some 72% of Public Libraries and 33% of Schools. For many businesses, not just Publishers, this is a game changing technology.

over 7 years ago

Artur Szalak

Artur Szalak, Online Product Manager at Populis Ltd.

@MIchael, yes they are easier to produce yet that was the least of writer's problem. Actualyl writing the book was, is and will always be the biggest effort :)

over 7 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

I know that for myself, ebook reading has been the main way I have read books this past year. With my iPad came a new found love of reading the business books essential for my industry, which are often printed in ebook or PDF format.

over 7 years ago

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