December 2011 book sales figures are in, and e-book sales clocked in at $85.0M, up 72% from last December. That figure shows some rebound from the lower-than-expected October and November sales, although it lags behind the months of February, May, and August. In fact, the monthly sales for 2011 are remarkably flat overall, with ups and downs but no clear upward trend for the first time in recent memory. In fact, sales for each of the last 3 months failed to double from the same months in 2010 for the first time all year (in other words, sales in each of the first 9 months were more than double their year-ago figures). The recap:
- Dec 2010: $49.5M
- Jan 2011: $69.9M
- Feb 2011: $90.3M
- Mar 2011: $69.0M
- Apr 2011: $72.8M
- May 2011: $87.7M
- June 2011: $80.2M
- July 2011: $82.6M
- Aug 2011: $88.8M
- Sep 2011: $80.3M
- Oct 2011: $72.8M
- Nov 2011: $77.3M
- Dec 2011: $85.0M
With December’s figures, the total sales for 2011 are in the books, and e-book sales increased 117% (more than double) from 2010, totaling $969.9M for the year. (As usual, note that the total figure is slightly higher than adding up the previous 12 months above, as the numbers usually are adjusted slightly upward for late-reporting sales.) This came in pretty close to, but just under, my prediction of $1 billion in e-book sales for the year (I was off by 3%). As you can see from the chart above, Q4 2011 took a surprising dip from the previous two quarters for the first time in several years.
2011 was not a great year for print book sales, with all 5 categories of print book sales down from the year before, with mass-market paperbacks predictably getting hammered the hardest, as they are the most likely to be replaced by e-book sales.
- Adult hardcover: $1,293.2M (down 17.5%)
- Adult trade paperback: $1,165.6M (down 15.6%)
- Adult mass-market paper: $431.5M (down 35.9%)
- Young adult hardcover: $661.9M (down 4.7%)
- Young adult paperback: $477.9M (down 12.7%)
Of course, overall print book sales ($4,030.1M) were still more than 4 times the dollar value of e-book sales. And the increase in e-book sales was not enough to offset the overall decline, with combined book (print + e-book) sales for 2011 ($4,986.9M) falling slightly from 2010 ($5,293.3M). E-book sales as a percentage of total book sales more than doubled (up almost 135%) from the previous year, from 8.17% in 2010 to 19.18% of all sales in 2011. (Also keep in mind that print books are tracked more thoroughly by the AAP; e-book sales are reported only by the larger publishers, and there are millions of dollars of e-book sales that go uncounted in these figures.)
So, overall, another year of e-book sales more than doubling. However, the slowdown in the last quarter and overall leveling off of sales in 2011 might hint that we’re heading for a plateau, or at least a tapering of e-book sales growth. Of course, nothing can double forever, and my early prediction is that 2012 e-book sales will fail to double from this year’s numbers — maybe up 50% or so to about $1,500M (one and a half billion). I think we’ll see a continued decline in print books, leading to e-books garnering roughly one-third of the overall book market this year. But I think we might be a couple years away from breaching 50% — which might require a technological advance like color e-Ink or foldable screens, or a game-changing event in the publishing world, such as superstar authors going independent and straight to e-books, big publishers embracing e-books, or lowering of e-book pricing (perhaps as a result of the agency model going away). In any case, I’m sure 2012 will be another interesting year for the publishing industry in general, and for e-books in particular.