The books are closed on 2012, so to speak, when it comes to tracking book sales; and ebooks made big gains, according to the latest data from the Association of American Publishers. At the same time, Dec. was not a month of strong ebook growth.
The format accounted for nearly 23% of publisher net revenues in 2012, up from 17% in 2011 and, astoundingly, 1% in 2008. Ten years ago, in 2002, the first year that the AAP measured the size of the ebook market, revenues from digital book sales accounted for 0.05% of the overall take.
Ebooks grew significantly in all categories that the AAP measures and the growth helped buoy all of trade publishing (adult fiction and nonfiction, young adult and children’s, and religious publishing), which was up by 6% on the year to $7.1 billion.
For adult fiction and nonfiction, ebooks were up to nearly $1.3 billion in revenue, a 33% gain from the previous year. While the overall size of the market is impressive and dwarfs the entire publishing business in all but a few of the largest economies worldwide, growth has slowed to an earthly rate compared to the otherworldly numbers posted in previous years.
Children’s ebooks were up 120% in 2012 to $233 million, driven by huge gains in the beginning of the year, perhaps due in part to the success of titles like The Hunger Games. Religious ebooks closed out the year up 20% to $57 million, a disappointing finish to what had been a red-hot start. (See below for past months’ coverage.)
Between the three categories measured in the AAP’s monthly reports, ebooks were up to $1.54 billion, an increase of 41%.
While 2012 overall was a good year for ebooks, Dec. was among its worst months, signaling that 2013 might be a year of even slower growth for ebooks.
Adult fiction and non-fiction ebooks were up about 20% in Dec. versus the previous year. Children’s ebooks were actually down about 21% versus the previous year, likely due to an unfavorable comparison with a month in which Hunger Games ebooks sold particularly well. And religious ebooks were only up 2.5% for the month.
In 2012, ebook revenue growth hit an inflection point — where it went from reliable triple-digits increases to double digit increases. Jan. 2013 could be a month of big increases following a holiday season during which many readers unwrapped new e-readers and tablets. As the popularity of tablets has eclipsed that of e-readers and sales of the latter have started to taper, it’s thought in the industry that the so-called “Kindle Christmas” boost to ebook sales this year may be less than in previous years.
In 2012, the AAP expanded the number of publishers queried for its monthly report to nearly 1,200 versus about 90 in previous years. The report now also includes additional categories, like children/young adult. The 2011 numbers have been backwards-engineered to include the expanded data set.
“We realized how critical it was to get frequent data and got all the major distribution houses involved in the report,” Tina Jordan, vice president of the AAP, told Digital Book World in March last year when the switch was made.
As the pace of change in the book publishing world accelerates, the AAP is seeking to provide its members with a higher level of service. The new report also falls more closely in line with the annual BookStats report, a more comprehensive view of the market from the AAP in partnership with the Book Industry Study Group.
Monthly reports for all of 2012: