If you follow the book trade, you knew this was coming. E-books, no matter whether you read them on an Amazon Kindle, a Barnes & Noble Nook, or your iPad are selling like crazy. We may complain about their high prices and even take eBook publishers to court for their prices and hardware lock-in, but we love our e-books. In fact, we love them so much that for the first time adult eBook sales were higher than adult hardcover sales.
It wasn't even close. The Association of American Publishers reported that in the first quarter of 2012, adult eBook sales were up to $282.3 million while adult hardcover sales came to only $229.6 million. In last year's first quarter, hardcover sales accounted for $223 million in sales while eBooks logged $220.4 million.
So where are the eBook buyers coming from? The answer is trade and mass-market paperbacks. Trade paperback sales fell from $335-million to $299.8-million. That's a drop of 10.5%. Mass market paperbacks sales had it even worse. They plummeted $124.8-million to $98.9-million in the same quarter last year. That's a fall of 20.8%.
The conventional wisdom had been that e-books would eat up hardbound book sales. That's not happening. Instead, while e-books will certainly by year's end be the most popular book format, it's paperback books that are really taking a hit. Perhaps that's because when you're buying a hardcover, you're buying not just a story, but an artifact, an object with more value than just as a way to get to the story.
Be that as it may, e-books are clearly the wave of the future. As someone who loves bookstores, libraries and has a few thousand physical books of his own, this is one wave I'm not entirely happy about. After all, e-books can be deleted, locked away by Digital Rights Management (DRM), or even edited from afar.
Don't get me wrong. I love the ease of purchase and use of e-books. My Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet goes everywhere with me and I have e-book applications on every device I own. Let's not forget though, as we rush to e-books faster than a bored housewife running to buy her copy of Fifty Shades of Grey--the soft-porn novel which has accounted for over 50% of all trade paperback book sales in recent weeks—that we're also going to lose such simple pleasures as lending a friend a good book.