E-book sales almost doubled in 2012, rising to $3.04 billion

The total revenue generated by e-book sales in the U.S. in 2012 was $3.4 billion, a 44.2% increase over the year before.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The total revenue generated by e-book sales in the U.S. in 2012 was $3.04 billion, a 44.2% increase over the year before. That gain was announced in the preliminary year-end report released Wednesday by BookStats, a joint statistics project between the Assn. of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.

In 2012, e-book sales accounted for 20% of trade book sales revenue. Overall, trade book sales rose 6.9%. Trade books are those found in brick-and-mortar bookstores and online retail booksellers.

And the increase in e-book sales did not take a bite out of print books -- at least, not in the aggregate. Print sales were $12 billion in 2012; they were $12 billion in 2011, too.

Hardcover sales rose 1.3% to $5.06 billion. Trade paperbacks edged up 0.04% to $4.96 billion. Figures are not yet available for mass market paperbacks, but their sales are expected to fall. Most industry watchers believe that mass market paperbacks stand the most to lose as the popularity of e-books continues to rise.


Publishing often has a single runway hit that swells its annual numbers; in recent years Harry Potter, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Da Vinci Code” have greatly improved sales. There’s no question that in 2012, publishers have the “50 Shades of Grey” books to thank for an improved bottom line.

As would be expected with a rise in e-book sales, online book sales rose 21.3% in 2012. That did affect the sale of print books, showing a 7% decline in sales from brick-and-mortar stores. Last year was the first full year without Borders, the major national bookstore that collapsed in bankruptcy in 2011.

Overall, publishing faced a sales decline of just under 1%. That drop was due to a contraction in the school book market for kindergarten through high school; fallout from the 2008 recession continues to affect state and local school budgets.

BookStats compiles data from 1,500 publishers, including all six major publishing houses. Further details of book sales in 2012 are expected in June.


[UPDATE 5/15 6:30pm: The original version of this post incorrectly stated e-book sales totals for 2012 as $3.4 billion. The correct number is $3.04 billion.]


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