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Why are e-book sales flat?

After a few years of explosive growth sales, e-books seem to have filled their niche market.

In less than a decade, e-book have become a major player in the publishing industry, representing about 25 percent of total book sales. But the days of rapid growth of e-book sales seems to have come to a halt.

In the U.S., e-book sales grew only 5 percent in the first quarter of 2013 after previously explosive first quarter growth numbers of 252 percent in 2010 and 159 percent in 2011. Triple digits plummeted to 28 percent growth last year and now growth numbers are in the single digits.

Of course, e-books were never going to be the death of print books, but it is a bit surprising that e-book sales seem to have leveled off (or at least come close to it) at around one-quarter of the market share. So what's going on here? Neil Irwin at The Washington Post has an idea:

If you’re someone who reads a book every week during your commute, say a detective novel or romance novel, the e-book format is perfect for you. But those people have pretty much all shifted to e-books, and there are only so many of them. If you read a book of serious nonfiction a month at home, and maybe even put it on your shelf afterward as a bit of a trophy, printed books are pretty darn good.

Basically, they're still more of a niche product in the publishing industry. And it seems that's where e-books will stay, because it isn't just the U.S. where this e-book trend taking place.

As Nicholas Carr points out, the Canadian market for e-books seems to have plateaued at around 15 percent. Similarly, the U.K. market saw e-book sales take a 13 percent share early on in 2012 before receding to 9 percent late in the year. Worldwide, it's even more precarious as e-book sales declined for the first time year-on-year.

Photo: Flickr/Pavel P

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com