slowreadingcov_ss.jpgTwenty years of the World Wide Web only increased the sale of books. Just a few years after the Kindle was launched e-book sales are accelerating and print sales are plunging. Here are the facts that interest the numbers nerds who follow these things.


September 16, 2009. Sales for Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol sold more copies for Amazon’s Kindle than in hardcover. This fact was interesting but not so surprising. The book was the much anticipated sequel to the popular The Da Vinci Code. It was just faster to download Kindle copies than print ones. Print sales caught up later in the week.

July 18, 2010. Amazon announced that its overall e-book sales topped hardcovers. For the previous three months it sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books. Amazon only offered relative numbers not actual sales figures. Totals included the very inexpensive Kindle books, bought more easily than read, limiting any implications for understanding literacy. The announcement was interpreted as marketing in anticipation of the Apple iPad.

January 2011. Amazon sells more e-books than paperbacks in the US during the final three months of 2010.

May 19, 2011. Amazon announces that it has sold more e-books than hardcover and paperback print books combined. Sceptics like me are slack-jawed.

Independent Sources

May 27, 2010. “E-book sales grew exponentially in the first quarter of 2010, jumping from just 1.5% of total US book sales in 2009 to 5% of the market in the first quarter of 2010.” “Among e-book buyers, 25 percent said they bought fewer print books than before.” Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at R.R. Bowker, speaking from BISG’s Survey of Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading.

January 28, 2011. “In 2010, e-book sales rose by around 400% and pulled in almost $1 billion in sales.” Madeline McIntosh, Random House’s president of sales, operations and digital.

June 27, 2011. “The share of adults in the United States who own an e-book reader doubled to 12% in May, 2011 from 6% in November 2010.” Pew Internet.

July 25, 2011. “Sales of print books in Canada dropped dramatically in the first quarter of 2011” …. “BookNet CEO Noah Genner attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the sale of digital books ….”

August 9, 2011. “E-book net revenue increased by 1274.1 percent between 2008 and 2010, to $878 million. E-book net sales increased by 1039.6 percent between 2008 and 2010, to 114 million.” BookStats.

September 12, 2011. “E-book sales rose 167% in June, to $80.2 million, at the 15 houses that reported figures to AAP’s monthly sales report and closed the first half of the year with sales up 161%, to $473.8 million.” “Trade paperback sales had the largest decline, down 64%, while children’s hardcover sales were off 31%. Adult hardcover sales fell 25%, mass market sales were down 22% and children’s paperback was off 13%.” Publishers Weekly.

Conclusion. The overall book sales pie may be getting larger but it is due to increased e-book sales while print sales drop. In general people are switching from print books to e-books. There are important exceptions to this pattern that I will discuss in my next article.

Via John Miedema’s blog


  1. It feels like some information is missing here. If only 12% of adults, in the US,( approx. 20,000,000 people give or take a few million ) owned ereaders in May, and the year before that ebook sales were only 5% of the US book market the year before that what are the real numbers here?

    It appears to me that ebook sales are still being dwarfed by print book sales and the rate of ebook adoption has increased. But it feels like too much spin right now. From the above it appears to me that the non ebook market is still a magnitude larger than the ebook market.

  2. @ Andy

    According to book stats 2010 numbers

    trade hardcover- 5.26 B
    trade softcover- 5.27 B
    mass market paperback- 1.28 B
    ebook – 878m (net revenue) 114m (net sales)

    US numbers only- not all publishers represented (or all numbers would be larger).

    2011 numbers aren’t out yet, but it sounds as though all the numbers are a 10% drop or so except ebooks, which doubled again. So they are ahead of mass market paperback now.

    But remember this is teleread- ebooks took over here years ago. And the article is discussing the trend, not where that puts us overall.

  3. @Peter

    Thanks. Those numbers help a lot. I don’t have any problems with the focus on the trendiness of ebook adoption ( I’m personally buying less than 10% of books in paper than I was even 5 years ago).

    I just like/need to see the solid/physical numbers attached to those trends. Which you’ve provided. Thanks.