Apr 162011

Well, that was fast.

This is big.

I’ve been writing monthly updates on industry e-book sales for a year now. Recently, I predicted that January 2011 e-book sales would overtake mass-market paperbacks. They did. But even I didn’t see this coming.

E-books, which have roughly doubled or tripled in sales each of the past several years, not only blew past mass-market paperback sales, not only passed adult hardcover sales, but have now overtaken adult trade paperback sales to become the largest single category of book sales in February. The numbers:

  1. E-Books: $90.3 M
  2. Adult Trade Paperbacks: $81.2 M
  3. Adult Hardcover: $46.2 M
  4. Mass-Market Paperbacks: $29.3 M

According to the release from the Association of American Publishers:

For February 2011, e-Books ranked as the #1 format among all categories of Trade publishing (Adult Hardcover, Adult Paperback, Adult Mass Market, Children’s/Young Adult Hardcover, Children’s/Young Adult Paperback).

Even including the children’s / young adult categories, printed books totaled $215.2 M for the month, giving e-books a staggering 29.56% share of total trade book sales. (Note: this total includes “trade” print books, but excludes educational, scholarly, and religious categories.)

E-Book sales, which accounted for about 8.2% of trade book sales in 2010, hit nearly 30% in February.

The trends are even worse for print, as e-book sales are up 202.3% (more than triple) from February of 2010, while adult trade categories are down a combined 34.4%.

A recap of the past 14 months of e-book sales:

  • Jan 2010: $31.9 M
  • Feb 2010: $28.9 M
  • Mar 2010: $28.5 M
  • Apr 2010: $27.4 M
  • May 2010: $29.3 M
  • June 2010: $29.8 M
  • July 2010: $40.8 M
  • Aug 2010: $39.0 M
  • Sep 2010: $39.9 M
  • Oct 2010: $40.7 M
  • Nov 2010: $46.6 M
  • Dec 2010: $49.5 M
  • Jan 2011: $69.9 M
  • Feb 2011: $90.3 M

It’s hard not to be blown away by these numbers. I expected e-book sales to increase, and predicted a nice bump after the 2010 holiday season (when millions of readers unwrapped Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and Sonys under their trees), but e-book sales for February are over triple what they were just 8 months prior, and nearly double what they were just two months before! February 2011 sales exceeded the (at the time very strong) post-holiday sales of the entire first quarter (Jan, Feb, Mar) of 2010. Amazing.

The two questions I have now are: (1) when will e-books get over 50% of trade book sales, and (2) will e-books stay on the pace from the first two months of the year and hit $1 billion in sales in 2011? (For the record, my predictions are: the first quarter of 2012, and yes.)

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