It's official: eBooks are now the single biggest selling format in U.S. trade book sales. Bigger than Hardbacks. Bigger than Adult Mass Market titles. Bigger than any Children's & Young Adult categories. And now, for the first time, bigger than Trade Paperbacks (this includes both fiction and non-fiction titles, everything from graphic novels and travel guides to Bibles). Of course, we're comparing all eBooks here to just a single category of print, so the comparison is not exactly accurate; but if digital is considered a "format" on its own, then the distinction is correct, and well worth taking note of regardless.
According to the latest AAP report for February sales, ebooks brought in $90.3 million in revenue for the month, a 202.3% increase over the previous year, while Trade Paperbacks accrued just $81.2 million. And while digital editions continue to soar month after month, all formats of print continue to decline, fueling concern and speculation as to the extent of cannibalization that has occurred, and how far it will extend. And although one of the most significant factors behind this shift is the sudden prevalence of reasonably priced e-readers, another (possibly more important) reason is that the average price point for print editions is $15.50, compared to just $8.75 for the equivalent ebook. At any time price will be a factor, but more so when times are hard and funds run thin.
And this is the result: for the first two months of 2011 print sales were down 24.8% overall, with Adult Trade categories falling 34.4%. Religious, Educational, and Academic texts all declined by single digit figures, while Chidren's/Young Adult print editions were down 16.1%. Meanwhile, eBooks have climbed 169.4% overall, and downloaded Audiobooks rose 36.7%. I don't even need to mention the stunning numbers of ebook readers sold recently, but with those figures running in the tens of millions, it's not very difficult to figure what's coming next. After all, what good is an ebook readers with no ebooks on it?
All this goes to show that digital editions are here to stay, and should be given the same consideration that print has always had. This means that independent publishers and self-pubbed authors need to pay start paying more attention to formatting, and build their ebooks with the same care and attention to detail that print has always received. Simply dumping a text file into a conversion program or uploading the print edition pdf to an ebook retailer isn't good enough any more (not that it ever was). Given that for many readers these days a digital edition may very well be the only edition of a title they ever see, it behooves the creators of that book to make it the best edition they can.
With that in mind, I'll be starting a series of posts in the days to come dedicated to ebook formatting. It's something I've spent a great deal of time studying of late, and a subject which is both confusing and rapidly evolving. With iBooks now supporting fixed-layout ePub files and ePub3 pending, far more complex layouts are possible in digital than ever before, and will only continue to improve, making graphic novels and highly illustrated storybooks not only possible, but with embedded audio and video, more exciting than ever.