AAP Figures Released: E-Books Keep on Truckin’ But Print Isn’t Dead Yet

The American Association of Publishers (AAP) have released their figures for March.

The headline figures were that e-books grew 145.7% year-on-year from March 2010 (in revenue terms), and print bounced back after a terrible start to the year, with two categories showing gains.

Adult Hardcover was up 6% year-on-year and Adult Mass Market Paperback grew 1.2%. Adult Trade Paperback fell 7.7%.

Despite that drop, Adult Trade Paperback was the #1 selling format at $115.9m, followed by Adult Hardback at $96.6m, e-books at $69m, and Adult Mass Market Paperback at $55.2m.

A few things should be noted.

As usual, only 84 houses have reported print data, and only 16 have reported e-book data, so these figures should not be taken as gospel.

Most small, independent presses and e-publishers are not included. A lot of these guys would sell more e-books than print books, and some would have a lot of e-only titles.

Self-publishers are not included, and the vast majority of their sales are in e-books.

Despite these provisos, it’s always useful to look at trends.

The rebound by print will no doubt cheer booksellers and traditional publishers, as well as fans of the format. However, it doesn’t change my view that print is doomed.

As is noted in the AAP’s press release, it was expected by many that e-books would cede some of their market share this month as readers finished their initial “surge” purchasing of new e-books for the Kindles they received over the holidays.

Also, some commentators are suggesting that February’s print numbers could have been artificially low because nothing was being shipped to Borders (America’s second-largest chain), and that they have now started re-stocking.

If this is true, it should even out when we look at the picture for the first quarter of 2011, which we can now do.

2011 – Half the E-book Revenue in a Quarter of the Time

Publisher’s Weekly has collated the figures, and e-book sales are up 159.8%, while print is in decline overall, with Adult Mass Market Paperback suffering most, dropping 23.4%.

From all the houses reporting, e-book sales for all of 2010 were $441.3m. In the first three months of 2011, they are already at $233.1m. That’s more than half the revenue in a quarter of the time.

It’s obviously far too early to tell, but if these trends continue, we could be looking at $1bn in e-books sales – by just these houses – by the end of the year.

If you like fancy graphs and charts, Neil has plenty over at E-book Comments.


So what does all this mean?

For one thing, it’s clear that e-books have a seasonal boom in the first couple of months of the year as new e-reader owners load up their devices. While in previous years that boom was restricted to the last week of December and the month of January, it now appears to extend to February.

Perhaps, as the market becomes saturated in a year or two, we will see this seasonal shift align with the traditional print boom in the run up to the holidays as major titles are released and new e-readers and tablets come on the market. But, for now, it’s there, and it’s clear.

Second, despite the loss of market share, and being knocked back into third position, e-books are still booming.

Third, print isn’t dead yet. Hard-pressed booksellers will find a lot of comfort in this month’s figures, but they will be anxiously looking towards next month to see if the revival holds.

Finally, it’s frustrating dealing with incomplete figures, as there are so many variables. It’s a small number of trade houses reporting print data, and an even smaller number reporting e-book data.

The AAP promise to give a more complete picture in May, and that will be worth looking at.

Also, we don’t know how much the self-publishing boom could add to e-book market share. For anyone who thinks that adding small presses, e-publishers, and self-publishers wouldn’t make much difference, just look at the Kindle Top 100 at any given day and count how many entries are from them. It’s a lot.

Neil at E-Book Comments has attempted to estimate the size of the e-book market with all of these added in, and presents all the information, as usual, with some very nice graphs and charts.

As for me, I thought e-books would get knocked back into second spot before regaining it later in the year. Third spot surprised me a little.

Next month’s figures will be fascinating. Will the print resurgence continue or was it just a blip caused by Borders beginning to restock? I have my doubts, but time will tell.

Thank you to Tracey Alley for making me her “Author of The Week” over at her blog. She asked me to write a piece about my publishing journey. Check it out.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

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