Are You Reading E-Books Yet? You Will Be.

ebooks full

The Association of American Publishers has released some startling statistics, showing the hockey stick growth of e-book sales.  E-book sales for the period of January through August 2010 totaled $263 million, compared with $89.8 million for the same period last year.  That’s an increase of 193%.  By comparison, total book sales (presumably print and electronic) tracked by the AAP were up 3.4 percent from the prior year.  E-books now comprise 9.03% of total book sales, compared with 3.31% last year.

It’s pretty easy to speculate as to two of the reasons for this dramatic growth of electronic book sales: the success of the iPad, and the maturation and low price of the Kindle.  It isn’t too difficult to imagine a world in which e-books eventually eclipse their dead tree brethren.

Many people still prefer holding a physical book in their hands, however, and some people like to collect books.  Could you see yourself making the switch to e-books?  Or are you already there?

AAP Reports Publisher Book Sales for August [via ReadWroteWeb]

Photo by John Blyberg

Evan Kline

Hello, I'm Evan. I write about tech from my perspective – that of the average 40-something tech geek. You can also find me on Twitter and at my real-life job as a lawyer.    MORE ABOUT ME.


  1. Definitely considering it. The main obstacles for us are:
    1. Shareability. We like to share our books around after we’ve read them. How possible is this – even if everyone has the same make of e-reader?
    2. Lack of Backlight. We read an awful lot at bedtime and it’d be great to be able to do that without having to have a light on. I understand at the moment that none of the mainsteam e-readers (in the UK at least) have a backlight yet.
    3. Bookshelves/library. We have several hundred books between us and they do look great on the shelves! Not quite sure how we’d show off how very well read we are without a physical book on show :)

    • Good questions to consider, Daryl.

      Regarding shareability, I can only speak to iOS devices. With those, you could just use the same Kindle account on all devices, and your books would be on each device. (That’s one of the nice things about an eBook- I read on my iPad, and can also get in some reading on my iPhone, in what is a surprisingly better-than-expected experience). The drawback is that you couldn’t read the same book as someone else at the same time, because the app remembers where you left off, and syncs page marker that to other devices. I’m also not sure whether Amazon’s own Kindle hardware requires you to have a unique account on each Kindle device, or whether you could share an account across multiple devices.

      For something with a backlight, the only device I know of at present is the iPad, and that’s a pretty expensive choice just for an eReader.

      For your library . . . nothing is going to be able to replace that. That is a nice thing about books, if you have the space.

  2. A couple of other obstacles:

    – A book won’t become unreadable because of dead batteries. Want to read by candlelight during a weeklong blizzard – grab a paper book.

    – Theft/breakage factor. If I lose a paperback at the beach, get sand in it, or have somene accidentally step on it, it’s not a major problem.

    – Price. I’m not going to pay more for an eBook than the physical book, out of principle. The eBook is much cheaper to produce, and the cost savings should be passed on to the consumer.

    Ironically, I sell eBooks of my own work, but that’s because it’s much cheaper to put out an eBook than a physical book.

    • Good points. Dead batteries are but one obstacle with readability. If the powers-that-be ever change formats, people with eBook collections are screwed. Anyone who buys tons of Kindle books better hope that Amazon is around for a long time. I’m hoping that there eventually is a standardized format.

      I agree with you on price. It bugs me when I see eBooks cost more than physical books.

  3. I would love to make the switch, but one big thing is stopping me: my existing collection of books. I like to re-read my books every few years (helps saves a ton of money on new books), it would be great if the publishers offered some type of deal to “trade-in/recycle” old books for a nice discount on the ebook version.

    • That would be pretty cool. I’d also love to see the option of buying an eBook and physical book together, like you can with a DVD and Blu-ray.

      • I am middle of the road on this in general, as I love having and love the tactile nature of paper books — but I also love having my library in my pocket, readable wherever I happen to be. I walk a lot. I like to read while I walk — I used to read paper books while walking too, but now I don’t actually have to carry a book (or the three I might be reading) with me to do it.

        I agree entirely on the pricing aspect. I balk at paying more than $10 for a regular eBook — and sometimes that is too high. Publishers are already taking control of eBook prices and starting to jack them up, which is unfortunate. I would love it if eBooks were offered alongside paper books — and would definitely pay an extra $5-8 on a hardcover for the digital version — as long as it is DRM free so I can read it on whatever device I damned well please.

        The fact of the matter is, though, paper books are likely to go the way of the collector’s item. As time goes by and digital becomes even more prevalent, and publishers charge close to the same amount that they do for paper books, currently, and get away with it (and they will, as people will pay through the nose for convenience), they will likely adopt digital as their main platform and turn paper books into expensive collectibles.

        I doubt it will happen in the next five years, however, as publishing is an “old man” business, much like music and film. They are too set in their ways and too afraid of what they don’t understand to embrace the newer medium quickly.

      • One issue that I completely forgot about earlier – the fact that many people in the world aren’t going to be able to spend $100+ every few years on a reader.

        In the “rich” countries, it is possible to see nearly everyone being able to afford an e-reader at some point. After all, nearly everyone has a computer …

        But what about Bangladesh? I’m not seeing an abundance of iPads in the near future.

        You’ll see the bios of many authors mentioning that their works have been translated into dozens of languages. Many languages have a considerably lower average income than English.

        The nice thing about a book is that you don’t need to buy anything else.

        I don’t have any problem with a price gap forming between eBooks and printed books … I just think that cost of the eBooks should go down, rather than the price of printed books go up.

        I’m a fan of having prices reflect costs … and the existence of the eBooks doesn’t appreciably affect the cost of printed books. You’re still paying the same royalties, still using the same amount of paper, and still having roughly the same percent of books unsold as you did in the past (assuming that you’ve adjusted your estimates). You are spreading some fixed costs (typesetting and such) over a smaller base.

        What I’d love to see is a group of elite writers form their own e-publishing company and see if they can sell 4 times as many books if they cut the price in half (doubling their revenue while keeping their costs flat).

        There have been some books that bundled free e-versions 10ish years ago. David Pogue’s Mac Secrets jumps immediately to mind, because he addressed the issue of theft of digital content within the text of the book.

  4. It will probably come down to how low they get the cost of an eReader. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it be how we view toasters now.

    CNN had an article today, where an author said physical books “will be [dead] in five years. The physical medium cannot be distributed to enough people. When you go to Africa, half a million people want books … you can’t send the physical thing.”

    I’m not sure I buy it, but it is an interesting perspective.

    Here’s the link:

    • Actually, Negroponte is a founder of a company that distributes low cost laptops to developing nations. He’s hardly an unbiased source – if his organization achieves its goal (which is a noble one), everyone will have a laptop.

      The publishing industry can’t handle sending 500,000 books to Africa? The same industry that distributed millions of copies of The Da Vinci Code and billions of Bibles and Korans over the years? I think they’re up to the task. I’m not losing sleep over their ability to keep up with demand.

      If everyone in a village of 50 wants to read 50 particular books, it’s not as if you need to distrubuted 2500 books (50 X 50). A handful of each title will likely be sufficient (the library model).

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