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.