E-Book Revenues Double in 2011, Top $2 Billion

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By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

E-book revenues across trade publishing topped $2 billion in 2011, more than doubling from $869 million in 2010, according to the latest figures from BookStats.

In 2011, e-books represented about 15% of all trade publishing revenues versus 6% in 2010, according to the report, a joint venture between the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.

That 15% number may seem low compared with the 20% (and higher) numbers that some publishers have been discussing for fiscal 2011 results, but the BookStats report includes many small and mid-size publishers that may not derive as much of their revenue from e-books, not to mention cookbook publishers and children’s book publishers that may also lag behind large trade publishers.

“The BookStats survey encompasses all sizes of publishers. No matter what size of publisher you are, digital is an integral part of your strategy — but it’s a matter of degree,” said Tina Jordan, vice president of the AAP, referring to the difference in how large and small publishers perform digitally.

Unit sales of e-books also more than doubled to 388 million units in 2011 versus 125 million in 2010, capturing 15.5% of the market, up from 5% in 2011. The disparity between unit sales and revenues suggests that in 2011 more less expensive e-books were sold.

Overall trade publishing revenues were $13.97 billion in 2011, up 0.5% from 2010 when they were $13.90 billion. E-book revenues were $2.074 billion, meaning that over $1 billion of lost print business was replaced by e-book revenue across the book trade in 2011.

A rise in e-book sales offsetting declines in print sales to result in relatively flat revenue is a familiar story for many publishers in 2011. Both Penguin and Simon & Schuster, for instance, reported flat revenues and increased profits due to increased e-book revenues for their 2011 fiscal years.

“There’s been exponential growth [in e-books] in the past few years,” said Jordan. “From what we’ve seen so far in 2012, the growth is continuing.”

According to the AAP’s monthly stats on the book publishing industry, which uses a different sample set from BookStats, e-book revenues are at about 25% of total trade revenues through the first three months of 2012.

The overall book business, which encompasses trade publishing, school and K-12 publishing, higher education and professional and scholarly publishing, declined 2.5% in 2011 to $27.2 billion from $27.9 billion in 2010.

Despite being under pressure in 2011 with the shuttering of Borders and the closing of several independent book shops, bricks-and-mortar bookstores still were by far the largest sales channel for all publishers, moving $8.59 billion worth of books, 31.5% of total net dollar sales. Libraries, businesses, governments, schools and other organizations represented 20% of sales. Online retail represented 18.5% of sales, or $5.04 billion, a 35% increase over 2010.

Also of note in the BookStats report was that publishers made over $1 billion selling directly to consumers in 2011, up from $702 million in 2010.

In 2012, with subscription services and, in the case of Tor.com, a full-fledged online store, publishers are increasingly seeking out ways to sell their books directly to consumers.

The 2012 edition of BookStats is the second edition of the report. The joint venture between AAP and BISG surveys nearly 2,000 publishers of all types and sizes.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Book money photo via Shutterstock

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5 thoughts on “E-Book Revenues Double in 2011, Top $2 Billion

  1. Maybe I’m mixing apples and oranges but…

    If online retail represented 18,5% of sales and ebooks represented 15% of all revenues, then:
    – Either online sales of non eBooks were only 3,5% of sales, which seems too low, or
    – A significant number of eBooks were not sold online, which seems odd.

    What am I missing?

    • That’s a good question and you’re not the only one asking it. I have a note out to the AAP about that.

      My guess would be that e-books and online retail are separate so that “total online” would be something closer to 35%. But that’s a complete guess. These numbers are very complicated as is the way the report is assembled, so I’d like to wait for the AAP’s response before getting back to you with something definitive.

  2. I also saw this post on GalleyCat (http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/ebooks-are-now-the-dominant-single-format-in-adult-fiction-sales_b54587) which claims that ebooks take the lead as the dominant format for books. I don’t get how the stats support this claim. One other commenter suggested it might be that sales for MM, TP, and HC are each less than 30%, which would put ebooks in the lead at 30%. I trust your parsing…what do you think? What am I missing here?

    • What the Galleycat article and others stated — though not clearly enough for my taste — was that in the adult trade category, e-books were the largest single format vs. hardcover, paperback, etc. I don’t have the exact breakdown for adult trade, but that is what the AAP has said.

      Why it bothers me and why I think it bothered you is that many are taking away from it that e-books are now bigger than print, which is not the case — even in adult trade, where e-books have made their strongest mark to date.

      Even the WSJ got it wrong based on AAP numbers from a different report earlier in the year: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2012/07/12/lies-lies-and-damned-e-book-lies-where-wsj-got-it-wrong/

      I will ask AAP for a format breakdown of the adult trade category so we can get to the bottom of this.

    • I heard back from the AAP.

      What I said earlier is incorrect. In ADULT FICTION, e-book net revenues (after returns, etc) topped all other formats.

      There are several important points here:

      1. This is not for all adult trade books, as I had written, just adult fiction

      2. These are net revenues. Not units sold, overall revenues or any other measure. The AAP told me that net revenues were the only category in 2011 where e-books were tops.

      3. The closing of borders and all the books returned would obviously have an adverse effect on the revenues for print formats in 2011, perhaps skewing the numbers in favor of e-books.

      Hope this helps and sorry for the confusion!

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