Book sales: going down, going up


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November book sales numbers are out, and they don’t look great, print-wise. But e-books? They’re hot.

Print book sales were down, the Assn. of American Publishers reports, in all the major trade categories. Year-to-date hardcover sales in 2010 are down 6.1%; mass market paperbacks have fallen off even more, by 14%. And while adult paperbacks are doing all right for the year, in November their sales fell by a whopping 19%.


Keen industry watchers have noted that paperbacks may have the most to lose from the advancing popularity of e-books. Do the latest numbers on e-book sales bear that out? Perhaps so. While paperbacks are slipping, e-books are rising at a huge rate: in November, e-book sales rose nearly 130%, Publishers Weekly reports. For 2010, year-to-date the average was even higher, a rise of around 165%.

Part of that is, of course, because e-books are still a small part of the industry -- triple-digit increases are easier when starting from a small absolute number. So far, e-book sales are at $391.9 million for 2010; that’s about 10% of the total number of traditional book sales, which as of October totaled $3.9 billion.

Is the rise in e-books beginning to eat away at the popularity of print books? Will paperbacks take the biggest hit? The holiday numbers -- for December 2010, and also January 2011, when new e-reader owners settled in with their devices -- may reveal much about e-books’ place in publishing.

-- Carolyn Kellogg