The AAP (Association of American Publishers) has released the sales figures for October. I predict there are going to be some very unhappy bean counters sitting in their offices today trying to figure out what’s going on. Or maybe not. Maybe they will stick their heads in the sand, their fingers in their ears and do their best to ignore the trends, hoping the holiday season will save them. The trouble with that is it might be a short term solution, but it won’t cure what ails the industry. The only things that will are for the publishers to start accepting the fact that e-books are here to stay and their business models need to be adapted to reflect it AND they have to quit trying to drive the market with novels they think are socially relevant and give readers novels that entertain.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for literature and “socially relevant” fiction. But it hasn’t been and, I think, will never be the money-maker they want it to be. There’s nothing wrong with fiction having a message, as long as you don’t hit the reader over the head with that message over and over again until they black out. Most people read for entertainment — the same reason they watch movies or TV. That is something we, as publishers, have to remember.
Any way, for the figures. October wasn’t a good month for most segments of the publishing industry. Only four areas showed an increase in sales over those reported a year ago. Higher education books were up 12% over Oct. 2009. Children’s and YA hardcover books were up 13.9%. Downloaded audiobooks were up 20.7% and e-books were up a whopping 112.4% over October 2009.
For the year-to-date figures, things don’t look much better. K-12 (kindergarten to high school) books are up 3.8% over the Jan – Oct figures for 2009. Higher education is up 10.6%, professional books up 8.4%, university press paperbacks up 4.1%, university press hard covers up 1.9%, downloaded audiobooks up 38.6% and e-books up 171.3%. Adult paperbacks were down for October but show no change for the month-to-date. Every other category has fallen.
What is really interesting, at least to me, is to see the progression of e-book sales since 2002. The following is the graph AAP included in this month’s report:
I know it’s small but, basically, the figures from 2007 to present are what are the most telling. In 2007, as e-book readers were beginning to hit the market, e-books represented 0.58% of the total sales figures for the year. That increased in 2008 to 1.19%. This corresponds to the release of the first generation of the Kindle in November 2007. in 2009, e-books sales increased to 3.37% of total sales and, in the first 10 months of this year, e-book sales represent 8.7% of sales.
Digital downloads, whether of e-books or audiobooks, are here to stay. What is up in the air is how the major publishers adapt. If they continue forcing DRM onto their e-books and not listening to what readers want, it won’t stem the tide. At least not for long. What it will do is continue cutting into their profits and the livelihoods of their authors. Here’s hoping a happy medium is found soon, for everyone’s sake.