Ebook sales headed for $1 billion


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A report by Forrester Research predicts that ebook sales will total $966 million in 2010. In 2011, the $1 billion line for total ebooks sales will be crossed.

In 2009, ebook sales were $169.5 million -- not a big portion of the $35 billion publishing industry -- but the rate of increase was an impressive 176%. That’s because people who get the hang of reading ebooks, the Forrester report says, shift their book-buying from hardcover or paperback to ebooks. Forrester’s James McQuivey writes, ‘the average eBook reader already consumes 41% of books in digital form.’ Those who’ve taken the plunge and gotten a Kindle or other ereader have an even higher percentage: 2 out of 3 books they read are ebooks.


Amazon indicated as much in July when it announced that in its spring quarter it sold 143 ebooks for every 100 hardcover books.

And yet Forrester found that only 7% of online adults who read books read ebooks, indicating room for still more growth. McQuivey writes, ‘even if we never get color e-Ink screens, if publishers never experiment with eBook subscriptions, and interactive eBook formats never succeed, we will still see digital get close to $3 billion in size by the middle of the decade.’

The question for publishing is whether ebook sales will simply cannibalize current hardcover and paperback sales, or whether there might be a windfall of converting formats. I know some people who had the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ on vinyl yet bought it again on CD, and then bought it again as MP3s. If people who have the paperback edition of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ buy it again as an ebook, publishing will profit. But if they skip it, and instead choose to buy Dan Brown’s next novel as an ebook instead of getting the hardcover, the bottom line gets less rosy.

A billion looks good if it’s a bonus; if it’s just a new slice of the same pie, well, it’s slightly less delicious.

-- Carolyn Kellogg