Ebook sales skyrocket and print book sales plummet in 2011

The Association of American Publishers released revenue figures today for the month of December and for all of 2011.  The data shows that ebook revenues more than doubled from 2010 and that print book revenues declined 15%-36% depending on the category.

Ebook revenues in 2011 were up 117.3% from 2010 while adult hardcover and paperback revenues fell 17.5% and 15.6% respectively.  Mass market paperback got absolutely crushed, with revenues falling 35.9% from 2010.  Here are the numbers:

2011 2010 Percent change
Total Trade $5859.7M $6,109.70M -4.10%
Adult Hardcover $1293.2M $1567.7M -17.50%
Adult Paperback $1165.6M $1380.9M -15.60%
Ebooks (excluding religious) $969.9M $446.3M 117.30%
Children’s/YA Hardcover $661.9M $694.7M -4.70%
Religious (all formats) $645.1M $594.9M 8.40%
Adult Mass Market $431.5M $673.6M -35.90%
Downloaded Audiobooks $98.8M $78.7M 25.50%


The data clearly shows that more and more people are choosing to buy their books in ebook format instead of the print format.  The numbers above are even more impressive when you take into account the fact that ebooks generally cost less than their print counterparts.

If you add up the dollar amounts of the revenue decreases in adult hardcover, adult paperback, and adult mass market, you arrive at a total of $731.9 million.  This is the dollar amount of the decline in adult print books from 2010 to 2011.  Note that this is less than the $523.6 million increase in ebook revenue in 2011.  This means that total publisher revenue is also declining slightly as the industry shifts to the ebook format.

Another important thing to note from the revenue numbers is that ebooks are almost the largest single format by revenue.  If ebook sales continue to increase at their rampant rate of growth, we can easily expect to see ebooks overtake adult trade paperback and adult trade hardcover sales this year.  This would be the first time that ebooks outsold paperback or hardcover editions for the entire industry.

Ebooks outsell all print books on Amazon already and have been since last year.  Amazon is very tech-centric and is also heavily promoting its Kindle devices.  It would have a much bigger impact if ebooks outsold print books everywhere.

You will begin to see massive changes in the industry if ebooks start to outsell print books.  More authors will choose to self-publish since publishers wield far less power in the ebook world.  The need for independent editors and “book creation” services will drastically increase.  There will be a lot more need for discovery services to help consumers filter the good ebooks from the bad ones.  These are just a few of the changes that will come with a focus on ebooks.

Overall, you can expect the changes to be great for the consumer and for the authors.  How the changes will affect publishers and public libraries is another matter.