Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A rebound in book sales

I mentioned earlier that the general consensus at BEA was that the corner had turned on the downward spiral of the book business. The AAP / BISG joint report will release full numbers in July but their survey of 1,100 publishers showed that 2008 was the bottom and modest gains could be seen for the last three years. They stressed that paperback books continue to decline and ebooks keep showing triple digit growth so I expect that when the numbers are released we'll see that ebooks (which many in the industry see as the enemy) will actually turn out to be its savior.

To mirror this, the March 2011 numbers show that total trade sales were ahead of last year's numbers, and by a good margin. With print sales falling $20 million and ebook sales rising $41 million, total trade sales for March of $413.5 million were up about $21 million--or more than 5% percent--from the same month a year ago.

What's really good about the above information is that it is based on dollars not units. I know many got excited when Amazon announced that ebooks are now outselling paperback and hardcovers combined (As of early April they stated for every 100 print books they sold 105 kindle books - including print books that had no kindle version). But considering the price point of many ebooks this is not a huge surprise. I'm sure Nestle sells more chocolate than Godiva.

To me the more important data from Amazon was that their us book business was outperforming other areas: "the fastest year-over-year growth rate, in both units and dollars, in over 10 years."

I'll continue to keep a close eye on the market as a whole and report for you information that I find along the way. But all in all it looks like there is reason for the optimism I saw, although I'm not sure those there realized that it was ebooks may very well be the saving grace.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this optimism is likely unwarranted. The transition to digital will almost certainly shrink the US book market. The coming collapse of the book superstores will not I believe be equalised by rising ebooksales if the music industry is any indication.

This might not matter to writers if some of the middlemen disappear and they get a bigger portion of the money pie.

Indeed the retail bookindustry has been shrinking for a while already.
A good set of graphs and statistics is at

The real future lies in untapped markets. India for instance has a large - and growing - population of readers in the English language. As geographic restrictions start to fade selling globally could become ever more important.

kathie said...

Thanks Robin,
Thinking of what Anon said, I think ebooks will be a big part of that globalization. I'm certainly no expert, but that comes to mind when I consider this.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Anon - The article you posted is interesting, and I want to read it further but based on initial investigation into the US Census data from which it starts I see a big problem. The data does not seem granular enough to limit "book sales". From everything I found it breaks down the sales to entertainment venues such as stores selling: Sporting Goods, Hobby, Book, and Music.

It focuses only on stores that are singularly focused and is lumped with several other categories. This data could not for instance tell us how many books Amazon sells verses how much electronics, nor could it indicate book sales at general purpose retailers such as Walmart.

If anyone can see a way to get the Census data at least limited to "books" (i.e. cut out the other entertainment venues) then looking at it would have some benefit and I would love to to as a study in what is going on in brick and mortar stores. But to use this data as stated I think doesn't hold up.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Anon - From a pure anecdotal stand point I can say that the advance of ereaders is making people read more books per year than they were in a traditional print only environment. Is the increase picking up the slack from people who have abandoned reading for other entertainment choices such as Television, the Internet, or computer games? I don't know - that's part of what the BISG/AAP data should help to let us get a picture of since it measures dollars spent on books (and only books) month over month as reported from sales both online and at Brick and Mortar stores.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Anon - I don't know enough about how "hungry" foreign countries are to read "western" produced literature. So I can't say one way or another. Certainly as the disposal income of once third-world nations such as India and China grows, these people will spend more on entertainment related activities and reading will be a part of that equation. Whether they prefer to read local authors or those imported from elsewhere I'm not qualified to comment on.

kathie said...

As far as ebooks providing a push for books, I have a couple of anecdotes that say yes, people are reading more with their kindles/ebooks than before--and they're still buying print! One powerful example is the sales guy in Staples who was about 18--he said "the Kindle has re-Kindled my interest in reading..." That's interesting--not scientific, but I thought it was an interesting sentiment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have been more specific when I linked to that site. The really pertinent chart is the very last one showing that household spending on reading has showed a consistent 10 year decline.

I am loath to comment on this because we are so early in the transition. The major gain for writers with ebooks is simple disintermediation. Betting on the whole pie getting bigger is much more uncertain.

Off topic there is one promising site starting to track ebooks - bestsellers, pricing sensitivity etc. - at

Robin Sullivan said...

Yeah I'll be having my own post on Sunshine Deals. Interestingly enough, while my rankings have taken a huge hit (as more and more Sunshine deals are taking up the top tiers), I'm actually selling HUGE in June. I've alredy sold more than 3,300 books in 3 days and most of them are at $4.95 so we're not hurtig from that.

But yes, I'm concerned that some of the publishers that dipped their toes with Sunshine Deals might like the lower price point.

Harper Alibeck said...

Anecdotally, every person I know who has bought an eReader *or* who has downloaded a free eBook reader app (Amazon's Kindle app for iPhone/Mac/PC, etc.) now purchases FAR more books than before using an eReader device or app.

I used to buy about 20 books per year -- 35 or 40 if you include gifts to others. I've purchased more than 150 eBooks since March. About 20% of my purchases were above $4.99, 25-30% at the $2.99-$4.99 price point, and the rest were cheap $.99 and the odd $1.99 eBook.

I'm *not* including the 200 or so *free* eBooks I've downloaded from publishers/Amazon offering special sales.

A quick survey of 10 friends who, like me, acquired an eReader or the free software to read eBooks in the past 6 months or so shows a similar pattern. Most are outright purchasing 5-10x as many books as they previously purchased in a given year, while the free eBook downloading varies (some are voracious, some don't bother).

And one additional anecdotal point: many friends who have tight budgets and who check out hundreds of library books but purchase maybe 10 books per year are now converted into paying customers, snapping up $.99-$2.99 eBooks and carefully taking advantage of freebie promotions.

Anonymous said...

whoah this blog is excellent i really like reading
your articles. Stay up the great work! You already know,
lots of individuals are searching round for this info, you could
aid them greatly.

Stop by my webpage - taobao agent

Jaly Can said...

If you look closely at our new urban art collection you'll see elements of design made popular by street art.

finestglasses said...

In fact, it dose not come true all the time. Now, let's have a journey to Firmoo to see whether all the high class polarized glasses are at high prices or not.

sherry jiang said...

shop online for thousands of Taps, Kitchen Taps, Bathroom Taps, Sinks and Plumbing Fixtures at, sinks, bathroom, kitchen and shower fixtures. FREE SHIPPING on most items. Same day shipping on in stock items.