The good news: The number of e-books sold last year grew by 43 percent.
The bad news: After three years of triple-digit increases in sales, that’s a serious slowdown.
That’s the latest news from the Association of American Publishers, which released its annual BookStats study Wednesday. The report found that digital books remain the fastest-growing segment of the publishing market, but that record growth is hitting a plateau after years of runaway sales.
Among the report’s findings:
• E-book sales grew by 43 percent in 2012
• E-books now represent 20 percent of all books sales
• Some 457 million e-books were sold in 2012, compared to 557 million hardcovers sold in last year
• Even if e-book sales have slowed, the industry has made massive progress: the 457 million e-books sold in 2012 represent a 4,456 percent increase over 2008 when 10 million e-books were sold.
As for the reasons behind the e-book slowdown, analysts’ explanations vary. Some, like Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, cite the enduring strength of the print format, which continues to outsell digital books by a margin of 4-to-1.
Another reason for slowing e-book sales? The explosive growth simply isn’t sustainable. Any industry that starts from zero and experiences rapid growth will eventually face a slowdown. So says Amazon vice president Russ Grandinetti: “As e-books have grown from practically nothing, you can’t expect to keep doubling it every year,” he told the AAP.
Finally, perhaps the most controversial reason: the digital marketplace may finally be reaching saturation. That is, the folks who have decided to adopt e-reading have already done so and the rest aren’t likely to go digital anytime soon.
“We’ve just reached a point of natural resistance,” Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant and organizer of the Digital Book World conference, said, according to USA Today.
Or, as Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch put it, “Consumers have settled into their book formats of choice.”
The bottom line: Both print and digital will remain important segments for the industry for years to come.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.