Compared to the digital doldrums some traditional media companies, such as record labels, have found (and put) themselves in the past years, times look relatively good for book publishers.
At least that’s the way it appears if you look at the January 2012 figures published by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which includes data from over 1,000 book publishers.
Overall adult trade sales (including print) are up 27% year-over-year, and sales of e-books are strongly contributing to that. Thanks perhaps in part to the growing number of e-reader and tablet owners, adult e-book sales grew 49% between January 2011 and January 2012, to nearly 100m total units.
When it comes to e-books, sales in certain genres, namely child and young adult, are surging. Just 12 months ago, sales in this genre were under $4m. In January, they pulled in over $22m — a 475% increase. As The Verge notes, the AAP speculates that “more options for devices aimed at those demographics as well as a number of popular new releases” has a lot to do with the dramatic increase in sales in this genre.
There are certainly areas for concern. While overall trade sales are up, certain genres are seeing what looks like e-book-driven cannibalization of hardcover and paperback sales. But obviously, book publishers appear to be faring far better than record labels have.
There are a lot of reasons for that. One worth noting: the industry hasn’t been nearly as distracted by piracy. Yes, some publishers have filed lawsuits against alleged BitTorrent infringers, but by in large, publishers haven’t taken their eye off the ball. As initiatives like Pottermore (which is, incidentally, DRM-free) demonstrate, book publishers are willing to innovate and is well aware of what is perhaps its biggest challenge: making sure major distributors, namely Amazon, don’t have publishers have them under their thumb as e-books continue to become a larger and larger part of the business.