E-book sales top paperbacks for first time

Posted Friday at 11:40 a.m.

The publishing tide is shifting fast: E-book sales in February topped all over formats, including paperbacks and hardcovers, according to an industry report released this week.

E-book sales totaled $90.3 million in February, up 202 percent compared to the same month a year earlier, according to a study from the Association of American Publishers. That put e-books at No. 1 “among all categories of trade publishing” that month — the first time e-books have beaten out traditional publishing formats.

But an AAP representative noted that the report comes with some big caveats. First, the net sales data are compiled from publishers, not from book retailers like Barnes & Noble. Publishers submit that data voluntarily, and some choose not to do so.

“It’s not 100 percent, top to bottom, every single book out there,“ said AAP spokeswoman Andi Sporkin. “But it’s a really good snapshot of what’s going on.“

The AAP report attributed February’s strong numbers to a post-holiday e-book buying surge by consumers who received e-readers devices as gifts.

Back in January, Amazon reported that its own e-book sales topped paperbacks. Its Kindle largely paved the way for the dedicated e-reader market.

Beyond the Kindle, other e-readers include the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Sony Reader, and Borders’ Kobo. Apple’s iPad is also driving digital book sales.

Those devices are changing the way booksellers view the industry. Earlier this month, Barnes & Noble executive Marc Parrish forecast that traditional book retailers have just two years to adapt to an e-book-centric industry.

“The book business is changing more radically now, and quicker, than movies or music or newspapers have, because we’re doing it in a matter of months,“ Parrish said at GigaOm’s Structure Big Data conference in New York. “ [ The ] next 24 months is when this business will totally shift.“


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  1. Albigensian Friday at 2:14 pm

    Well, there’s still plenty not to like about e-books. Such as,

    1. There is still no standard e-book format. A Kindle e-book cannot be read on a Nook, or visa-versa.

    2. E-books cost more than paperbacks, and only a bit less than hardcovers.

    3. I still can’t sell or give away an e-book, nor can I buy a used one.

  2. sharko Friday at 2:15 pm

    Well, at least somebody’s still reading…

  3. Patrick Broderick Friday at 2:30 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, e-books will never replace the real thing. The smell & feel of a book, especially an older book, is special. And real readers have the ability to pass books along to others who might like them. And how easy it is to go back to a spot earlier in the book to reread a section.

    Also, real books never lose their charge.

  4. Mr. C Friday at 2:41 pm

    As an old die hard reader (50-75 books a year). The switch to a E-Reader wasn’t as hard you would think. 2 years later I won’t touch a paper book and have sold almost half of my paper books (The other half nobody wants).

    Truth is half the books I gave to someone to read; they never read let alone returned. The other half of my books no one is interested in reading.

    FYI: I don’t know anywhere that sells e-books for more than their paperback equivalent, usually they are at least a dollar cheaper. Plus if you enjoy older books, there are a thousands of free one’s ready for a quick download and read.

  5. Active Friday at 4:06 pm

    I agre with Mr. C. E-books are generally cheaper and often free. Once in a while the e-book is more. I have always been a big reader and still am but traveling with books on an e-book reader sure beats hauling around a bunch of paper books. I don’t like it for publicatons that have maps or pictures because they are hard to see.

    They are especially fun for someone who likes to hop between 3-4 books at a time. It will never replace paper entirely but they are great for a lot of applications.

  6. skyblue23 Friday at 4:59 pm

    Many ebooks do cost more than their paperback equivalent. Under Agency pricing, the Big 6 publishers set ebook prices and they CANNOT be discounted. However, stores can (and do) discount paperback books. On Amazon, they have a 4-for-3 promotion on paperback books. The Big 6 publishers don’t allow a similar discount for ebooks.

    Also, you do not own the ebooks that you purchase. You are just granted a license to use the ebook. So why should I pay the same or more for an ebook when I don’t even own it (and can’t lend or resell it as others have noted)?

  7. Laughing Gravy Friday at 5:59 pm

    skybue23 asks “So why should I pay the same or more for an ebook when I don’t even own it (and can’t lend or resell it as others have noted)?”

    Because ebooks have features that paper books lack. They take up no space in your house, and don’t have to be packed when you move. They cannot be damagaed or destroyed. Their font size can be changed to suit your eyesight. For the price of one purchase, you and your spouse (and others in your family) can download the same book to your own devices (ereader, computer, tablet, smartphone) and all read the book at the same time. You can carry around hundreds with you and switch between them as you choose.

    It depends what you value. Owning a paper book allows you do certain things with it, and if lending or reslling books is important to you, then that’s an advantage, but I never lend or resell books, so I couldn’t care less about that. I think ebooks are worth much more than paper books. It doesn’t bother me to pay more for them.

  8. Mr. C Friday at 7:28 pm

    Sky – I was wrong, after looking up some books on Amazon there are some priced for more. Not sure why but they are. On the other hand every book I have bought has been priced lower then the paper back. In reality the best deal is your local library or a used book store.

    I don’t think till you have a e-reader can you fully understand how convient they make reading. Bored on the plane reading one book, switch to another in seconds. Kids watching Ice Age 3 for the 20th time, pull out my Kindle; increase the font size and I can read 30 or 40 pages while still paying somewhat attention the movie. I can share books with my family and some publishers let me share other books with friends who own a kindle. So, far I have yet to meet someone who said they don’t like their e-reader.

    Of coarse there are people who still listen to music on records, watch movies thru their VCR player and even playing video games on their Atari. However, the E-Reader I have to say is here to stay and become the dominate reading device for books and replace the old paper books.

  9. SirBedevere Friday at 9:19 pm

    I’m sure printed books will never replace manuscript books. The heft of the parchment will never be matched by flimsy paper, the joy of the individually crafted letters will never be matched by metal typefaces, and I could never have a book without illuminations and historiated initials. Moreover, I have to buy whatever the printer chooses to bind together when I buy a printed book, whereas I can always have the scribe copy out whatever works I want and have them bound in whatever order I need. No, moveable type will never catch on.

  10. KA Saturday at 6:15 a.m.

    These numbers are totally a sign of the times in which we live. There is a new gadget on the market, so inevitably many people will go after it. Some people want to have all of the latest technology, regardless of whether it measures up to the original format in quality. As far as the benefits, many people will jump on the e-book bandwagon because it is portable, and also saves space. Others will prefer the print version because they can trust the integrity of the content, as well as have the option to keep a copy for generations to re-read if desired. I personally prefer a printed copy, but if people feel more comfortable having a Kindle or other e-book platform, more power to them.

  11. KXB Saturday at 9:00 a.m.

    E-readers have many advantages over traditional books. If you’re a history buff like me, you know that history books can run several hundred pages, can be a nuisance to lug around, and take up a lot of shelf space. Even if you choose to borrow such a book from the library, you may not be able to finish reading it in time before the due date, even if you renew online, which many libraries now offer as a convenience.

    E-books may also be “greener” than traditional books. Less paper, less fuel to transport the books from the publisher to the store. Many newspapers now also publish on the Kindle. So, in the middle of winter, when you are snowed in, you do not have to bundle up to get your newspaper from the driveway. The problem is that many newspaper Kindle prices seem a bit steep.

    I still like regular books, but for certain categories of books. I will still give gifts as books, since most members of the families are readers.

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