E-book Sales Are Exploding And Hurting Paperbacks, Publishers Say

All manner of metrics in publishing point to one fact – e-book sales are now beginning to take off in a big way.

“In recent weeks, HarperCollins has seen its ebook sales growing five to 10 percent, week-on-week,” the publisher’s international CEO Victoria Barnsley OBE told the World E-Reading Congress, which I attended in London on Tuesday morning.

“The paperback fiction market this year is down seven percent in trade value – I put this almost entirely down to ebook sales … the mass-market paperback is the thing we’re going to cannibalise most.”

Another publisher, Random House’s deputy CEO Ian Hudson, explained: “We’ve seen e-book growth outstrip our (total) sales this year by a factor of 10.”

But growth pace differs internationally. Hudson showed the congress this Bowker data which illustrates a gulf in digital propensity amongst U.S. and UK book buyers…

Suggesting a typical physical-digital sales ratio, Hudson said that, for his author Katie Fforde’s A Perfect Proposal, “e-book sales accounted for a very creditable nine to 10 percent of the total”. At the higher end, Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman clocked 22 percent while her The Leopard had reached 35 percent digital.

Recent Publishers Association data showed UK e-book sales by value rose 38 percent through 2010, meaning digital accounts for six percent (£180 million) of the total market (consumer e-book sales were up 318 percent). February 2011 U.S. e-book sales were up 202.3 percent from a year earlier, the Association of American Publishers recently said.

At the World E-Reading Congress, Hudson forecast that 2010 UK growth in consumer e-book sales of two percent “could exceed eight percent this year and 15 percent next year … “U.S. e-book sales will more than double in 2011, taking the total sales in excess of $2 billion this year,” he added.