It is often the case that new media formats are greeted with suspicion amid fears that the changes they herald will undermine important creative aspects of society. Often these fears are misplaced and it is the distribution channels of the old format that are under threat rather than the media itself, and after a period of decline the industry returns to growth and often hits a new peak. Earlier this week I saw a chart which showed how the music industry evolved according to this pattern as the physical format shifted from vinyl through cassettes to CDs, and today I’ve seen data showing that ebooks are now driving growth at the overall market level in the book industry.
Last Tuesday the Association of American Publishers released a study which found that total US industry sales grew 3.1% to $27.9bn from 2009-2010 and that ebooks were 5.7% of the total at $1.6bn. The press release gave ebook sales for the trade portion of the market and assuming a similar growth rate in consumer ebook sales then it is accurate to say that the overall industry growth is down entirely to ebooks, and that physical book sales declined.
Unsurprisingly there was also a significant shift from physical retail to online retail, with online retailers’ market share rising from 9.9% in 2009 to 14.3% in 2010.
The way I see it now that we have decent readers ebooks are simply a better proposition for consumers. Books have become cheaper, more portable, and quicker and more convenient to get hold of. It is unsurprising that they are growing the market.
When the format for media changes the unit of media consumption often changes as well. In music the move to online distribution brought with it a shift from buying albums to buying singles. We may be seeing the start of something similar in the book industry now with the emergence of Kindle Singles, a new idea from Amazon which they define as:
"Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book."
It is early days, but this innovative new concept is looking like it might be popular. Here are some soundbites:
- Ars Technica made $15,000 in a day from sales of a 27,000 word Kindle Single which reviewed the release of Apple’s OS X Lion, an article that was also available for free online
- Amazon publishes a list of Kindle Single bestsellers
- Industry commentators are writing glowing reviews
I’ve been saying for some time that ‘dead tree books’ will soon go the way of stone tablets and papyrus, and that middle class families the world over will reclaim the wall and floor space that are currently occupied by bookshelves. Now I can also say that we will have a stronger and more vibrant book industry as a result.