May 202011

Fresh off impressive all-time high sales of $90.3M in February (which made them the highest-grossing format, ahead of hardcovers and trade paperbacks), e-book sales settled down to a more reasonably robust $69.0M for March of 2011. That’s very close to January’s $69.9M. As compared to March 2010, the March 2011 numbers are an increase of 142%.

This puts overall Q1 2011 e-book sales at a record $229.2M, an increase of 157% from the same period a year earlier.

As explained by the Association of American Publishers, the large January sales and huge February sales were a result of post-Xmas e-book buying:

According to publishers, these figures are consistent with seasonal buying patterns; in particular, a return to print editions after the post-holiday period of buying, or “loading,” of e-Books into e-reader devices.

This is no surprise; a very similar pattern emerged last year (although with a more even Jan-Feb-Mar distribution, without the huge February spike):

  • 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
  • Mar 2011: $69.0M

Print books made a comeback, totaling $96.6M for adult trade hardcover sales, $115.9M for trade paperbacks, and $55.2M for mass-market paperbacks. Print books have sales surges before Xmas, and then a slow period after Xmas when publishers don’t release any big blockbuster titles. Thus, January and February are simultaneously the strongest months for e-books and the weakest months for print books.

One other note on March’s decrease from February’s sales: just like sales dipped to their lowest point of the year last April, the first month that 5 of the “Big 6” publishers raised e-book prices under “agency model” pricing, March 1 marked the date when Random House joined ranks and embraced the agency model as well. Is it a coincidence that we saw another large dip in sales that month? Will March 2011 remain the lowest point for e-book sales in 2011? Probably a good bet. (We got a good hint that April numbers should be strong when Amazon announced that its e-book sales overtook all print sales combined in April.)

Looking forward, I’d expect sales to rebound slowly over the next few months, and they probably won’t top February’s breakout numbers until the second half of the year. By the end of 2011, we should see even more $99 e-readers, perhaps a rumored Amazon tablet, a rumored B&N Nook Classic 2, and e-book sales in the $100M per month and 20-25% market share ranges.

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