With all the upheaval in bookselling over the past decade -- the surge in online ordering, the multiple challenges faced by brick and mortar booksellers, and the squabbles over e-book pricing -- you would think the book industry was in crisis. But sales figures suggest otherwise. Increasingly, this churning appears to be an integral feature of a steady process of transformation in the digital age.
The Association of American Publishers released 2012 sales figures, showing a substantial increase in overall totals. Sorting out the numbers (there is additional data on the AAP website), the net gain was 7.4 percent over the previous year, which amounts to an additional $451 million in revenue, reaching $6.533 billion. The extraordinary popularity of the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy, published by Random House's Vintage division, and the Hunger Games series from Scholastic were major contributors to the boost. While there is a popular notion that book sales are being fundamentally undermined by competition from other forms of information and entertainment pouring forth from digital devices, these figures show this is simply not the case.
The percentage of e-book sales as a factor in the totals was up by a considerable 42 percent from 2011, amounting to $1.251 billion. But that rate of increase has slowed in recent months, and the prevailing view in the industry is that the digital reading pattern will settle, at least for the time being, somewhere around 20-25 percent of overall volume. Nonetheless, the impact of devices--e-readers, tablets and smartphones from Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Kobo, Nook, Microsoft, and others--is unquestionably transforming how publishers view their lists. The process of acquisitions now assumes that e-books--with generally lower prices than print books, but without the rate of returns of unsold inventory that have been such a burden on revenues in the past--are an essential part of budgeting.