It's the end of books as you knew them: E-books out-sell hardbound for the 1st time

It's the end of books as you knew them: E-books out-sell hardbound for the 1st time

Summary: Get ready to bid adieu to your local bookstore -- if you're lucky enough to still have one! -- as e-books sales surpass hardcover book sales for the first time.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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EBooks out sell hardbound for the first time.

EBooks out sell hardbound for the first time.

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.

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34 comments
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  • How I hate this.

    I HATE e-books.
    NoAxToGrind
    • Perhaps you like the adult bookstores...

      "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."

      I can see this... Most people don't like going to an adult bookstore... Sometimes you find creepy customers stalking the aisles, sometimes the creeps are the adult bookstore employees... Some people get embarassed or are inhibited... But I can see reasons for both preferences... I'm sure that some of it has to do with the demographics of your local adult bookstore... ;P
      i8thecat4
  • It's progress, but publishers are slow

    There are still a lot of books that either come out late in e-book format or still not at all. I consume a lot of books, but e-books still account for less than 25% of my purchases. Either the book simply is not available in digital form, or it is, but is also more expensive than a physical book (when I see this ridiculous circumstance, I refuse to buy the book in any form except maybe used). Books that are lavishly illustrated also suffer on a standard Kindle or smartphone app.

    Still, it's progress. While I used to love going to bookstores, I've soured on the entire retail experience in recent years. I would like to see some sort of app that makes browsing a more enjoyable experience (bookstores in particular, but other markets could benefit).
    jvitous
  • Older books

    I've gotten about a dozen out of print books as ebooks. It appears they scan them using OCR. Problem is nobody proofreads them. One book constantly had "me" instead of "the." I emailed the publisher and never heard back from them.
    herblock
  • Not even close?

    Interesting definition of "close/not close" there.

    Let's take a bigger overall look:

    -- 2011 Q1: total sales $903.2 million; e-books $220.4 million, or 24.40% of the total; non-e-books $682.8 million, or 75.60% of the total
    -- 2012 Q1: total sales $910.6 million; e-books $282.3 million, or 31.00% of the total; non-e-books $628.3 million, or 69.00% of the total
    -- Net change in total sales: increase of +0.82% from 2011 Q1 to 2012 Q2

    However, I find a couple of things somewhat misleading about the statistics as they're presented:

    1. E-books was presented as a single category, while paper-sourced books were broken down into separate categories. The problem is that, in many cases, you will find the same book available in both hardcover & paperback editions. Since we're primarily looking at paper vs. e-book, breaking down the paper books muddies the water... solely in the favor of e-books. However, as I pointed out, pooling all of the paper-sourced books into a single category shows that e-books only increased their percentage of total sales by just under 7% for the year... far from a "we're taking the world by storm" change, particularly since paper still shows a solid majority percentage for sales.

    2. Straight dollar sales can be misleading when the unit prices even within a single category aren't identical. It's the same problem you see when looking at how successful movies are at the box office: it's easy to break a few million dollars when a movie ticket can cost $8 or more dollars apiece (if not more in certain markets), but it makes it hard to compare to movies of "yesteryear", back when tickest were half the cost or cheaper (try finding a movie that broke $300 million at the box office when tickets were $0.50 apiece). Unit sales, on the other hand, can provide a better picture. For example, let's consider books A (hardcover, $25), B (e-book, $20), and C (paperback, $8). Book A's total sales were $25 million, meaning it sold 1 million units. Book B's total sales were $30 million, so it sold 1.5 million units. Book C's total sales were only $18 million... but it sold 2.25 million units. Book B sold 50% more units than Book A,... but Book C sold 50% more units than Book B (and nearly twice as many units as Book A).

    3. Related to #1, there were no meaningful categories actually listed. What do I mean by that? I see nothing about any breakdown of, say, diet books or other reference books sold as e-books vs. hardcover. Nothing about science-fiction novels sold as paperback vs. hardcover vs. e-book edition. For me, I buy very few reference-style or nonfiction books, so whether or not e-book sales of nonfiction items is spiking or not makes no difference [b]to me personally[/b]. On the other hand, the breakdown of sales of fiction novels, particularly in categories that are of interest to me, would be much more significant. Without that breakdown, this discussion just starts sounding like one of those "post-PC" arguments... & we all know how those end up degenerating into flamebaits & fanboi diatribes.
    spdragoo@...
    • I think an in depth breakdown

      of what ebooks were sold would be significant no matter the genre. My wife for example owns several print cookbooks and now also owns several ecookbooks on her Nook that she refers to while she's cooking - I wonder how many others do the same?

      I read both ebooks and print books and while I do enjoy the convenience of having several books on a device that is easy to carry I also enjoy the feel of a print book and will still buy them.
      NonFanboy
      • Same here

        I would love to see breakdowns by genre on the sales, just to see if there are any trends that can be determined from them.

        And yes, despite being a geek that loves learning about/using new tech toys, I still love the feel of a real book as well. Not to mention that the only limitation on reading time is what time I have available, as opposed to when the last time was that I recharged the e-reader...
        spdragoo@...
    • Re: Item Number Two

      For accurate stats on Movies, go to www.boxofficemojo.com, you discover that while Gone with the Wind made about $199 Million back in 1939 (when tickets were 10 cents), adjusted to today's prices, it's equivalent to $1.6 Billion - over TWICE that of Avatar.
      Ludovit
      • That was exactly my point.

        Although, IMHO, Gone With the Wind is a horrible movie, but that's just my personal taste.

        Hmmm, unfortunately the work firewall won't let me view the site right now. I'll have to check it out later. Would be interesting to see how some modern "blockbusters" compare to "classics" of yesteryear...
        spdragoo@...
    • $ vs. units

      Comparing sales dollars when a $50 hard cover might sell for $10 electronically isn't good comparison. Really, units sold is what will tell the picture, and specifically, the ratio of ebooks vs. hard covers for new releases over a fixed period (say, 3 months after release).

      Hard cover books have to support a lot more overhead: paper. printing, warehousing, and logistics. The problem is a lot of publishers don't want their revenue to drop, even if they will be more profitable in the long run. New, ebook-only publishers are springing up like weeds now, and the old guard are going to fall like dinosaurs if they can't shed this overhead fast enough.

      E-books are also enjoying some of that new media effect that compels people to buy things they already own. Just as Pink Floyd rang the register when LPs gave way to CDs which gave way to MP3s; I'm slowing replacing some of my physical books with electronic ones when I see them available and if the price is right. Eventually I'll do what I did with LPs and dump the whole lot of them -- 1500 books takes up a ton of space and I have to move soon. Well, probably donate rather than dump, but the effect is the same.
      jvitous
      • We've done that with VHS, so far

        & basically for the same reason (i.e. fitting 2-3 DVDs in the same space that a single VHS tape took up).

        With books, though, I'll probably always have books on my shelves, which makes it harder sometimes to justify the idea of buying the e-book version when I already have it in paper.
        spdragoo@...
  • E-books are here to stay but don't mean the 'end' of anything

    I don't own an e-book reader or a single e-book, and I love to read. I'm not the only person I know like this. I may get a reader someday---who knows? But it will never replace my physical books. Nothing will. Let's not forget also that hundreds of millions of people in the world have no access whatsoever to e-books, or even to a regular source of electricity. A physical book on the other hand can be shared with any number of readers and passed down from one generation to the next.
    preilly2@...
    • They also don't have access to print books

      Especially print books in their language. I recently sent some children's books to a rural school on the island of Leyte, only to find out the school had neither a library nor the space to create one. Print material (aside from newspapers) is exceedingly expensive there, magazines are twice the price or more than here. I would guess that overall ebooks are more practical since computer and internet access is widespread and inexpensive in comparison. There are also many charitable programs involved in getting used computers or cheap netbooks in the hands of students in 3rd world countries; ebooks are going to make a huge difference in such cases.

      Things are not going to get better. The paper industry is already struggling because of low demand and have increased their prices to stay viable. The carbon footprint of bringing a book or magazine to your mall or doorstep is rather staggering (Discover magazine had a big article about this a few years ago), so the pressure to be more "green" will weigh heavily on the market as well.

      I was a reluctant convert...as I mentioned above, I have more than 1500 physical books in my personal library. For the most part though, an ebook adds more than it takes away. For starters, it always lays flat...and yes, there are many times I prefer to read hands-free. They take no room to store, they don't get dusty, they don't suffer from environmental hazards (the reader might, but not the media) and they are available wherever I go on whatever device is handy (phone, Kindle, PC).

      Things they aren't good at include leafing through the pages browsing at pictures. I suppose this would be better on a tablet than on a smaller device. I imagine some day the coffee table book will be replaced by a coffee table's built-in display (with 42" LCD TVs selling for under $400, can this be far away?)
      jvitous
  • books

    I have been reading e-books for 20 years. I love back lit and autoscroll. I dislike the fake paper (black n white). I dislike the gouging - ebooks costing same as paper. Pay $14 for a pack of electrons? Nothing in this world is perfect . . .
    photomstr@...
  • No real baseline for comparison.

    I've bought several hardbacks in the past couple of months, all used. With the resources available today (Amazon, Thriftbooks, Half Price Books) it's fairly easy to find almost any book for less than retail, especially if you are willing to wait a little while. I do have hundreds of e-books, but they are all public domain or freely distributed by their owners, I can't bring myself to pay the outrageous asking prices for e-books today.

    And then there's the greatest deal of all: free. I constantly have books checked out from the library, and have almost 60 requests in the queue. Using the library website and email, I can request books from any of the 45 branches to be delivered to my local branch down the street, and borrow books via inter-library load from neighboring cities and the state university libraries. I already pay taxes to support the system, I'm darn well going to use it.
    terry flores
  • Errrr.....

    Just like digital music, I'm not an eBook fan. Why? When you buy an audio CD or a book, you are getting something physical. Digital music or eBook? Nothing. You can easily delete it or get corrupt [yes an audio CD could be cracked and a book could burn [?]].
    I've never bought an eBook and have bought two digital albums - but both are the [official] audio to concerts I went to.
    Gisabun
  • I like eBooks, and have purchased five or six just recently.

    Why? Because they do not require shelf space. I have very, very limited storage space in my apartment, and the forty or fifty cookbooks I have take up all the space I have available for books. It was a no-brainer for me. I find the eBooks to be every bit as functional as the hardcover editions.
    thetwonkey
  • Hardbound Books

    The only time I've ever bought a hardbound book is because I wanted it now and couldn't get it any other way. I don't want any physical books, the physicality is worth zip to me. I want them electronically. Haven't bought a physical book is 2 years now. I value what's in the book, not its form.
    txscott
  • Ebooks

    You can lend eBooks too you know. I know I have. I live in a small apartment. I cannot fit more bookshelves than I already have. Still, I love to visit B&N and always leave with something.
    hayneiii@...
  • . . . and I feel fine.

    "It???s the end of books as you knew them"

    . . . and I feel fine.

    Sorry, just had to.

    I'm sorta split. I'm thinking that for regular reading, I'm likely to go to e-books. But for reference material for my job, I'll stick to paperback. It's easier to find stuff in a reference book if it's physical.
    CobraA1