The Future of Ebooks

Ebook Market Numbers

Assessing ebook sales figures is a challenge mainly because Amazon, the largest U.S. reseller, doesn’t provide market data (beyond sweepingly broad statements). Amazon doesn’t have to, so it doesn’t. As a result there’s a great deal of guessing and a smidgen of surmising regarding the actual success of ebooks in the U.S. market.

Compounding the problem is the multivariate nature of book publishing. Outsiders see just one big book publishing industry, but book publishing is a conglomerate of discrete though overlapping sectors, including children’s books, religious, education/textbooks and STM, which is scientific, technical and medical. Different groups define publishing sectors differently, with differing degrees of granularity. Education, for example, is usually broken into two sub-sectors, K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12) and Higher Education (both college and university, including technical colleges). Adult Education is a sometimes third category (for adult continuing education).

The most visible sector is consumer publishing, known in the business as “trade publishing.” This category includes everything from popular fiction to diet books.

Textbooks comprise a large publishing sector, yet the data suggests that ebooks have had their least penetration here. The books that we keep hearing about as success stories in the ebook market, romances, mysteries, thrillers, and science fiction, between them amount to something less than 5% of the annual sales of the traditional print book market. So while these categories are indeed taking off they really are not representative of the book industry as a whole. Still they may be harbingers of a broader trend. We just can’t be certain at this point.


The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) used to collect quarterly U.S. trade retail ebook sales in conjunction with the Association of American Publishers (AAP). This stopped in fall, 2010.

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The Last Data from IDPF Reveals an Unmistakable Trend

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) continued to report ebook sales until July 2011. Then it announced, jointly with BISG, the Book Industry Study Group, the BookStats report ($695 & up for association members; $995 and up for non-members).

Forrester published an analysis of ebook trends in its US ebook Forecast, 2010 to 2015 ($499).

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Forrester Sees Es in Our Future

Read more about:

  • e-Readers & Tablets
  • Apps
  • Publishers
  • Children’s ebooks
  • eTextbooks
  • Enhanced ebooks
  • Formatting
  • International
  • Self-Published ebooks
  • Pricing
  • Metadata
  • Software Vendors
  • Service Vendors

at The Future of Publishing