Ebooks set to become largest trade category in 2012

The folks at Mediabistro.com reported the American Association of Publishers sales for December 2011 and YTD: “The December report represents data provided by 77 publishers and only sales of the participants are reported. NOTE: All numbers have been rounded to one decimal point and may not add up to 100%”

The key takeaway, I think, is that ebooks will become THE largest book trade category in 2012.

Sales only need to grow 33% to surpass that of adult hardcovers.  See the chart below. They already dwarf adult mass market, which took a HUGE hit last year. Sales can’t keep growing at more than 100% year after year. They must eventually slow down.  But, given projections, it’s not going to be hard to make 33%. According to the estimates of a Barclays Bank analyst (link below), Amazon will sell an estimated 35 million Kindles and Kindlefires next year. Each owner would only have to purchase $10 worth of books in the year for the segment to grow 33%. And that doesn’t count the sales for the Nook, iphones, ipads, or any other ereaders out there.  

This year ebooks become king of the heap.

Media Bistro report of AAP numbers: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/mass-market-paperback-sales-down-nearly-41-in-december_b47625   

Barclays analyst project sales of 35 million Kindles and Kindlefires in 2012: http://blogs.barrons.com/techtraderdaily/2012/02/23/amazon-barclays-cuts-kindle-kindle-fire-estimates/ 


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7 Responses to Ebooks set to become largest trade category in 2012

  1. Tom Abbott says:

    I’m finally sold on e-publishing. It’s the great equalizer.

    There isn’t much that a small publisher can do for you that you can’t do for yourself. If I did get a contract with a traditional publisher, I’d still need the same skills and I’d still have to do the same kind of self-promotion as I do as an independent publisher.

    As always, I still need to focus on understanding my audience, and on writing the best stories that I possibly can. A bad first book will kill every other book in a series.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’d still take a publishing contract. The one thing they CAN give you is credibility.


  2. JohnW says:

    That “largest trade category” seems meaningless.

    For example, if “adult paper books” were a category, I think (if I understand the categories), it would be $2890.3M (sum of adult hardcover, paperback, and mass market).

    Then, if we had “adult e-book” category, I assume it would be somewhat less than $969.9M, since E-Books (excluding religious) probably includes children’s and YA E-books.

    So a more meaningful comparison would be “adult paper books” at $2890.3M versus “adult e-books” at somewhat less than $969.9M.

    So e-books still have a long way to go for revenue to outstrip paper books.
    Not that I don’t want to see it happen, but one must be realistic about these things!

  3. John Brown says:


    Trade categories are useful to many in the industry. Baen, for example, makes most of its money from mass market paperbacks. Tor, on the other hand, makes most of its money from hardbacks. If you’re with one of those houses, you want to see where your segment is heading.

    When your segment is shrinking drastically, it’s helpful to know. If another segment is growing, that’s helpful to know as well. When one format starts to dominate others, it shows where the money in the whole industry is flowing. And where future investment is likely to flow.

    The other thing this doesn’t show is net income from the category. Ebooks are much more profitable than paper, which affect how the industry will shift as well. Kris Rusch discusses the recent announcement by those who own Random House about their investment going forward. It’s worth a read: http://kriswrites.com/2012/03/28/the-business-rusch-pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain/

    So when a small category of the trade in just a few years rises to dominate the others, it is indeed useful information. The purpose of the post wasn’t to make a comment about when ebooks would become the lion’s share of all book sales, but to highlight this milestone in the segment’s growth and how the industry is shifting. And this is a huge shift 🙂

    Of course, I think comparing ebooks sales to all trade is useful as well. You’re right to point out ebooks haven’t replaced all of paper. It will be interesting to see if ebooks slow their rate of growth this year. If they don’t, this is going to affect a lot of things.

  4. JohnW says:

    Thanks to your clarification, I can see how those categories may be useful to someone in the publishing industry.

    But for most people, I think these kind of headlines are misleading, because it becomes, in the minds of many people, “E-books will outsell paper books in 2012”, which I think is very unlikely, even if I would love to see it happen.

  5. John Brown says:

    Anything can be misread. But I don’t think it’s misleading for the average person coming to this blog 🙂 Becoming the biggest category is actually a big deal. It’s a huge deal. And the table lays things out in a clear way to understand what that means.

    Sounds like you’ve run into some starry-eyed ebookers. What’s your connection to publishing?

  6. JohnW says:

    I have no connection to publishing, although I am curious what I wrote that made you think otherwise.

    I am just a big fan of e-books, but I am tired of them being second class citizens — e-book releases delayed relative to paper and many older SF&F titles still not available as e-books. I guess that will not change until e-books have a much larger share of the market, rather than being outsold by paper books by more than 3 to 1.

  7. John Brown says:

    I just meant what’s your interest.

    As for older titles, many titles have had their rights revert back to the authors. And so it’s up to the various authors to get them back into circulation. But there are titles that the publishers still have licenses to that aren’t up. If you read the Bertlesmann announcement I linked to, it’s clear they see the profits and are working to get them all up. I can’t imagine other publishers wouldn’t do the same. So it’s already changing.