This Forbes article by Jeremy Greenfield clearly points out the WSJ’s mistake:

In a widely read article about how e-book retailers are tracking readers (something the publishing industry has long known about) titled “Your E-Book Is Reading You” by Alexandra Alter in a June issue of the Wall Street Journal, the reporter writes, “In the first quarter of 2012, e-books generated $282 million in sales, compared to $230 million for print, the Association of American Publishers recently found.”

Makes you think that e-book revenues have eclipsed print book revenues, right? Well, it’s patently untrue.

The number that Alter is citing is for hardcover books. In the first quarter, there were $230 million in hardcover revenues versus $282 million in e-book revenues, according to the Association of American Publishers. This does not count children’s books, paperback books and a host of other categories.

As long as we’re here, let’s investigate the real numbers.

Through the first three months of this year (the most up-to-date numbers available), the publishing industry as tracked by the AAP generated $2.33 billion in total revenue. The AAP does not break out all the individual numbers but this figure includes Trade, K-12, higher education and professional and scholarly publishing.

More details in the article.


  1. Book format revenue overall continues to grow 2-5% yearly. Book increase overall moderates a diminished paper vs. accelerated screen growth as the 3/4 paper and 1/4 screen portions are stabilized and decoupled from either general growth or decline.

    Background factors are also in play. Sectors poorly adapted to print (i.e. phone directories, encyclopedias) are transferred to screen. Such transfers strengthen both formats going forward.

  2. Another inaccuracy is that sales figures no longer tell as much of the story as they did in the print era. Today, I can legally assemble an anthology of 19th Century English Literature to create, duplicate and disseminate an eTextbook without cost to any number of students. In the print era, that tome had to be purchased new or used (if available). As well, I could make my book free if its real value was as an information harvester or propaganda machine.
    So the potential number of peeping books could be much greater than estimated solely on the basis of sales.
    Given that an eBook is a “web site in a box” it is at least theoretically possible that someone (author, publisher, advertiser, etc.) is tracking you just as web sites do (see: for background).
    An eBook author could amass a host of useful data simply by placing hyperlinks in their book to a web server they control and then studying the web logs using log analysis software. This is fairly innocuous, entry level snooping. Web tracking has gotten far more sophisticated than this and can be quite intrusive.

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