Ebook Sales Down: A New Masquerade?

It’s been a while since we read that ebook sales are down, especially in the US and Anglo-Saxon countries. But, a new article is changing things. In reality, sales of ebooks are increasing.

It is an article that has just brought tangible elements to support this controversial thesis: not only sales of ebooks have not declined, but they could be much larger than expected.

1-The partial figures of the AAP and the UK Publishers’ Association

It begins with an analysis of the figures published by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the UK Publishers’ Association (idem for the United Kingdom).

Numbers are not very good for e-book sales since the UK Publishers’ Association announces a 17% drop in sales of ebooks.

At the same time, ie in the first quarter of 2017, an 8% increase in paper books is recorded.

This increase in sales of paper books is indisputable. Indeed, we can estimate that the figures are reliable because the big publishers are the ones who publish the most books.

However, digital figures are increasingly contested. Indeed, they do not take into account all the independent publishers and – therefore – the whole economy of Amazon’s self-published books – to name but a few.

Traditional and mainstream media tend to publish such figures, but do not have the knowledge to understand them.

The conclusions drawn can be very misleading.

An analysis of potentially false results

A simplistic analysis is based on the following:

  1. Sales of paper books increase
  2. Digital book sales down
  3. So readers are fed up with digital books and come back to paper

This is undoubtedly a true analysis for a number of people. However, I do not observe this around me. I am always surprised by the number of readers who start reading digital books (especially on tablets and smartphones, it must be said).

This pattern of thought that seeks to show that digital books are neglected has always left me marble.

It does not seem to reflect the daily observations of readers.


I think he reminds us of two important dates for an ebook reader.

First of all, there is the introduction of the Kindle reader by Amazon in 2007. Although not the first reader, it is the one that was most accepted by the general public.

Then there is 2011. This year, forgotten since then, Amazon announced that they had sold more ebooks than books!

Because, Amazon sells not only digital versions of paper books, but also books that only come out digital (and do not necessarily have associated ISBN numbers).

These sales are therefore practically impossible to track down by the various studies since Amazon does not communicate sales volumes.

3-A book Market Worn by Coloring

The most interesting is perhaps the analysis of the explosion of sales of paper books.

In recent years, a brand new type of book has appeared in bookstores: adult coloring books.

Even if sales of this type of book tend to go down, this new market is not suitable for digital (impossible to propose a digital coloring book for Kindle). However, it has been very popular in the US: it has grown from 1 million copies sold to more than 12 million between 2014 and 2015.

These coloring books have borne the growth of book publishing papers. In Australia alone, in the top 20 best-selling books in 2015, there were 8 coloring books

4-Authors’ income: a more reliable source

So how well measure the sales of paper and digital books? Perhaps by analyzing the revenue of the authors rather than the sales figures.

The idea is to build on what book creators are gaining to determine the success – or not – of a medium. This is what the Author Earnings site offers.

Their estimates are astonishing since they indicate that Amazon would have sold about 260 million digital books published by independents (ie not accounted for in official statistics) in 2016. This represents sales at $ 850 million!

Even more surprising: between 2015 and 2016, when the publishers’ associations announced a sharp decline in the number of ebooks sold, the authors gained about 4% more from digital sales.

Conclusion: the numbers lie to us

The conclusion is less obvious than it appears. Because, overall, ebooks are selling more and more, it becomes difficult to correctly interpret the figures of the publishers.

Due to the mixture of genres and markets in the sales figures of paper books (we saw the example of coloring), one can not really compare digital sales with traditional sales.

But one thing is certain: we should not bury digital books too quickly!



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