E-book sales overtake paperbacks in February

For the first time ever, US publishers report selling more e-books than hardcover or paperback books.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
In February, sales of e-books increased, while sales of books in other categories declined.

This February, US publishers sold more e-books than they did books in any other format, including paperbacks and hardcovers, according to a report from the Association of American Publishers. This marks the first time ever that e-book sales have surpassed those of all other formats.

E-book sales totaled $90.3 million in February, a 202% increase compared to the same month a year earlier.

E-tailer giant Amazon had already announced in January that its sales of Kindle e-books were outpacing paperback sales. For every 100 paperbacks sold in 2010, Amazon says it sold 115 Kindle e-books. Last summer Amazon announced that e-book sales had surpassed those of hardcovers.

AAP data represents net sales of publishers rather than those of book retailers. While not all publishers contribute sales information to the AAP, its numbers are still assumed to be a good overview of the book industry.

The bad news for publishers is that although e-book sales have increased by 169.4% since the beginning of 2011, overall categories of print trade books showed a decline of 24.8% and the decline in print sales to $215.3 million is not compensated for by the increase in e-book sales.

Tom Allen, president and chief executive officer of AAP, did his best to put a positive spin on the numbers, saying that, “The February results reflect two core facts: people love books and publishers actively serve readers wherever they are."

Allen noted that, "The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them. They have made e-books permanent additions to their lifestyle while maintaining interest in print format books.”

"Maintaining," may not, however, be the correct word, as e-books are clearly claiming a larger and larger piece of the overall pie, at the expense of other formats.

Earlier this year, several major publishers confirmed that e-books had increased to about 10 percent of their total sales. Some publishing experts now predict that within the next two to three years e-book sales will comprise up to 25 percent of all book sales.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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