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E-Books Are Only 6% of Printed Book Sales 437

An anonymous reader writes "MIT's technology blog argues that e-book sales represent 'only six pecent of the total market for new books.' It cites a business analysis which calculates that by mid-July, Amazon had sold 15.6 million hardcover books versus 22 million e-books, but with sales of about 48 million more paperback books. Amazon recently announced they sell 180 e-books for every 100 hardcover books, but when paperbacks are counted, e-books represent just 29.3% of all Amazon's book sales. And while Amazon holds about 19% of the book market, they currently represent 90% of all e-book sales — suggesting that e-books represent a tiny fraction of all print books sold. 'Many tech pundit wants books to die,' argues MIT's Christopher Mims, citing the head of Microsoft's ClearType team, who says 'I'd be glad to ditch thousands of paper- and hard-backed books from my bookshelves. I'd rather have them all on an iPad.' But while Nicholas Negroponte predicts the death of the book within five years, Mims argues that 'it's just as likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption of e-books will slow.'"
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E-Books Are Only 6% of Printed Book Sales

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  • As a Kindle Owner (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tragek ( 772040 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:02PM (#33681792) Journal

    E-Books still aren't there yet. When an E-Book as as convenient, as cheap, and as trouble free as real books, then we'll see e-books take off. But I think they've still got a way to go. Prices need to come down, the devices themselves need to get better (more durable, longer battery life, cheaper) and the software inside them needs to get much better.

    Speaking only from owning a Kindle, the limitations on display imposed by are sometimes infuriating: Limited type choices, no ragged right, an orgamizational system which doesn't scale past 100mb of material, let alone the two gigs that comes onboard, (Why people moan that the kindle is not expandable I'll never understand. Aside from a wikipedia dump, who needs two gigs of text on the go!). PDF Support needs vast improvements (why, god why do you let me zoom, but only to the scales you chose for me... which are always way too wide or ten letters too narrow on academic papers?)

    Annotations for academic work are important, and on the impotent keyboard they give you on the kindle, good luck. HIghlighting is slightly better, but still painful.

    Having ranted though, I have to say, I still love my kindle, if for no other reason than receiving my news paper every morning electronically, combined with Instapaper for long articles.

    The devices have amazing possibility, but until they improve, they won't kill the book.

  • RPG Books (Score:4, Informative)

    by deinol ( 210478 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:21PM (#33681996) Homepage

    I am liking the trend (started primarily by Paizo) of role-playing companies that give Print + PDF bundles for their books. I love having access to reference PDFs on my laptop. When regular ebooks start coming bundled with hardcovers or at a more reasonable price, they will definitely take off. As it is, who wants to pay more than a softcover price for a novel?

  • Re:price (Score:5, Informative)

    by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:24PM (#33682020) Homepage

    The very reason ebook prices are so high is because publishers won't let Amazon drop them further, as that would cannibalise their book sales in which they get much larger margins.

    This NYTimes article [] broke down prices of ebooks -- showing that a $10 ebook nets them about as much profit as a $26 hardcover []. It goes on to suggest that they're keeping prices high to slow down adoption -- their whole infrastructure is built around dead-tree books right now, and they fear they won't be able to adapt fast enough to scale down their own DTB-related costs. I suspect though, that when they do figure out how to scale down, they'll be just as happy keeping the prices high.

    I'm a happy owner of a Nook. The only faults ebooks have right now is that even basic typesetting is almost entirely non-existent on them. Things that could be done automatically by the ereader -- things you don't realize you want until you don't have them, like paragraph-optimized justification, automatic hyphenation, preventing lone paragraph lines on page boundaries, hanging punctuation, and ligatures -- aren't there. Ebooks are displayed either with left-aligned text or with an obnoxiously-spacious justification.

  • Re:Wrong title (Score:2, Informative)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:28PM (#33682068)

    >The title should be, "Holy crap, an entire 6% of books sold are eBooks."

    Yep. I was going to post something to that effect, but you said it all.

    Or you could even say "'Sblood! 6% of book sales are lost to eBooks!"

  • by bdam ( 1774922 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:28PM (#33682070)
    I work for a medium sized book publisher and like many others we are scrambling to put e-books out. Six percent sounds about right, last year it was 4 and the year before that it was zero. From a publisher's perspective, we're still waiting to see how it all pans out. The suspicion is that this growth rate won't maintain itself and that there's a plateau somewhere. Where that is, no one knows, but no one that I know of in the industry is predicting any sort of e-book takeover in the next decade or two. So yes there's huge growth but no one's getting rid of their printers just yet. Publishers love e-books: no shipping, no warehousing, and most importantly no returns. Most books are sold to retail outlets on the basis that they can return them for a full refund if they don't sell. Since getting shelf space can boost sales you often see titles with an over 50% return rate. Also, for very little money you can take titles that are out of print or didn't sell well and put them out there. Titles once thought dead can now eek out a few extra sales.
  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:3, Informative)

    by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:46PM (#33682230) Homepage Journal

    Strongly suggest you check out a Kindle - no not an iPad. the Kindle screen is as close to paper as you're going to get in a portable form right now. It's NOT backlit but can be read anywhere the light is good enough to read paper. It doesn't strain the eyes either - it's NOTHING like a computer screen. Give it a chance, you just might find that you liek it. I know being able to carry a few hundred books in my pocket sure is nice. Just be sure to review ebook prices first - right now they suck!

  • Bullshit. You can sell ebooks for less than $3 and make a profit. The overhead is WAY lower. Authors are starting to realize this and publish on their own and it scares the crap out of the publishing industry which is so stupid they actually use the cost of PRINTING paper books as an excuse to inflate ebook pricing!

    Read this: [] completely to see how far up their ass the publishers have placed their heads
    and this: [] to see what smart authors are starting to realize!

  • Re:eBook pricing (Score:3, Informative)

    by ffreeloader ( 1105115 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:53PM (#33682298) Journal

    For all the reasons listed from parent on down I do not buy ebooks. I'll download and read from the Gutenberg Project. However, I will not spend money on a book that will, in all likelihood in the future, not be accessible as I'll be damned if I'll buy something twice. I'll not buy at all rather than have to buy twice as DRM history has taught us is very likely.

    I like the tactile feel of reading a book and that direct sunlight improves reading conditions rather than destroying them. Plus, I don't like the idea of having to buy another piece of technology just to read. And, I like the ability to share books, buy used books, and give books away if I so choose without having to jump through artificial hoops. As far as I'm concerned, until all those issues are made right I will not buy ebooks.

  • Re:DRM (Score:4, Informative)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:59PM (#33682360) Journal
    I'd love to buy some ebooks, but I can't, period. That's right: many publishers will not sell me their ebooks because I do not live in the USA. Barnes & Noble for example are happy to ship dead trees to me overseas, but downloading is a no-no. And the selection in local stores is rather poor. Smells like DVD region hell, only much worse.
  • by Alaren ( 682568 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:19PM (#33682888)

    It is difficult to argue with the meteoric rise in ebook popularity.

    My wife is a bestselling young adult author. The highest number she's heard on digital sales from her peers is 6% (IIRC), and "less than 1%" is the more common answer. So "meteoric" I think may be overstating your case. At a conference she attended last summer, one agent said that while eBooks are obviously here to stay, and how much of the market they will ultimately occupy remains to be seen, to this point in fiction there is only one genre that appears to be moving significant numbers of digital copies, and that is erotica. I have heard from other sources that in nonfiction, tech manuals and textbooks are popular but not much else.

    Are eBooks on the rise? Clearly. Are they eating into traditional book sales? Not so much. Part of the challenge is that a lot of people don't read, and a lot more people read but rarely. Moving ten thousand copies in one week is almost guaranteed to make you a bestseller. Smash-hits in the literary world can only get that way by roping in casual readers, and even the biggest books of the year rarely top 10 million (compare that with the number of eyeballs Hollywood pulls in on a B-list opening weekend!). If you're the kind of reader who picks up one or two books a year (or less), an eReader that costs more than $50 is a piss-poor investment. If you read a hundred books a year, naturally you're going to feel like $0.99 or $4.99 or even $9.99 books on a single, highly portable device is the bee's knees, but that market is going to reach saturation right quick, assuming it hasn't already. To say the writing is on the wall reads to me like a prophecy of doom for dead-tree publishing--which I don't see happening this decade (though predictions beyond that point I will decline to make d^_^b).

    I'd be interested in more about your "insider" position in ebooks and what you've seen re: what sells, what doesn't, and what it is that customers are mostly demanding.

  • Re:DRM (Score:3, Informative)

    by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:28PM (#33682928) Homepage


    I have personally broken two Kindle screens. I have managed to get them replaced under warranty - thanks, Amazon. A short fall to a relatively hard surface does it.

    Another problem with the Kindle is the screen gradually darkens over time. I believe this apples to all eInk displays and not just the Kindle but also the Sony, Nook and everything else using eInk. It makes the device have a rather limited lifespan that is somewhere around 2-3 years. Much shorter than I originally expected.

  • Re:Wrong title (Score:3, Informative)

    by guyminuslife ( 1349809 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:46PM (#33683072)
    I thought the Kindle 1 was pretty decent in that regard. I don't think it was perfect, but it was good for a fiction novel that I was reading once, sequentially. If I were re-reading or I wanted to jump around, or it were a textbook or a reference book, or I wanted to show a section to someone, or I wanted to lend a book, and so on, it would not have even remotely cut it. But the ergonomics and visual presentation were good.
  • Re:price (Score:3, Informative)

    by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:56PM (#33683144) Homepage Journal


    Amazon is no longer setting the prices of books. Amazon would LOVE to drop them BACK to where they were but cannot because the Publishers now set the prices! Look at most any Kindle book on Amazon now and note the "This price was set by the publisher" statement just below the price...

  • by bdam ( 1774922 ) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @10:59PM (#33683516)
    Well yea, publishers are certainly struggling with this whole thing and how to pull it off. Part of the problem at the moment is both legal and technical. On the legal side, publishers who have been around for a while have a huge backlog of stuff that they'd like to release. However, no one was thinking of electronic rights even as recently as a decade ago. So every single contract has to be reviewed to determine if the book can be sold electronically. For us that meant manually reading about 10 filing cabinets full of contracts. On the technical side, there's huge confusion about how to produce these things. EPub is emerging as a standard but there's tons of formatting issues and to date we haven't found any silver bullet to turn a PDF or InDesign file into a beautiful looking ePub. You can pay an off-shore conversion house, but you get what you pay for. Publishers have a ton of experience working with printing presses and have developed a process to publish a quality product. None of that in in place yet for e-books. So yes, for sure, there are authors out there who, if they do the right things and get their stuff in order, can do much better. Will Wheaton would be a good example. But you're probably not going to hear a lot from those who tried and failed and trust me ... publishing is awash with failures. On the price point business, your point is well taken and rational. However, remember that an author who self publishes and fails isn't out much. If it doesn't sell at price A he can bump it down to price B and see what happens since his overhead is ... almost nill. Authors who get a publishing deal tend to demand advances and a fairly large percentage of books never recover that advance in full. That's one of the big reasons you're paying $14.99 for a book that cost 50 cents to print. Failure is expensive for a publisher and the market is extremely fickle. A publisher just hopes that every few years they get a book that sells like crazy to make up for all the others that were dead on arrival.
  • Re:Why? Because... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 2010 @11:02PM (#33683552)

    As it happens there are ALREADY folks offering those services to include cover art, editing, the works. It's already begun...

  • []

    from someone doing it.

  • Re:price (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:43AM (#33685010) Journal

    BTW whoever formatted all those Gutenberg etexts in that annoying tiny bold italic font... FUCK YOU.

    If you want Gutenberg texts sanely formatted, go to FeedBooks. They typeset them with TeX for your eBook reader's screen size, with configurable text size.

  • Re:eBook pricing (Score:4, Informative)

    by BlackCreek ( 1004083 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @06:06AM (#33685092)

    Actually the only reader I know of that isn't (mostly) open is the Kindle. Both the Nook and the Sony Readers take the open .epub formats natively

    This is non-sense. When people complain that the kindle doesn't handle EPUB, they mean DRM'ed EPUB. The real problem with the lack of DRM epub on the Kindle are public libraries lending DRM'ed epub, and other shops only selling in DRM'ed epub.

    The kindle takes .mobi files, and DRM'ed mobi (.azw I think). The Sony and other readers take several formats but are mostly optimized for unencrypted epub, and DRM'ed epub. The whole deal is about which DRM scheme works on each, and which shop sells on that DRM format.

    Back and forth conversion between non-DRM mobi and epub is trivial. All shops I know of selling books without DRM also sell the books in .mobi for the Kindle, and if they didn't epub to mobi is, as I've said, trivial.

  • Re:eBook pricing (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kartu ( 1490911 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @08:09AM (#33685512)

    This is non-sense. When people complain that the kindle doesn't handle EPUB, they mean DRM'ed EPUB.

    No, when they complain that kindle doesn't handle EPUB, they mean it supports neither DRM'ed nor non-DRM'ed EPUB.

    Kindle only supports:
    1) mobipocket ( was bought by in 2005)
    2) AZW - amazon's proprietary format
    3) TPZ - actually variation of AZW with embedded fonts
    4) PDF & plain text files (yay, these doesn't belong to amazon!)

    The fact, that there are converters in the wild, that can convert between formats, doesn't make Kindle "support" mentioned formats.

  • Re:eBook pricing (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlackCreek ( 1004083 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @08:39AM (#33685746)

    I never said that the Kindle supported EPUB. My point is that for epub without DRM this is a non-issue.

    As I said, I don't know of a single e-book vendor selling epub without DRM that doesn't sell a mobi version as well.

    The fact, that there are converters in the wild, that can convert between formats, doesn't make Kindle "support" mentioned formats.

    Read the post I was responding to. The guy already uses Calibre, so that fact that calibre will convert the (open) epub automatically when tell it to put the e-book in the Kindle is pertinent to him.

    If you don't want to use Calibre you can use Amazon's free conversion service by emailing the book to "[username]".

VMS must die!