University presses, in many cases, have been even less successful than textbook publishers in selling electronic versions of their books. A new survey by the Association of American University Presses suggests that as of last December, e-book sales or licenses accounted for less than 3 percent of total revenue for the overwhelming majority of university presses.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents expressed “serious concern” about the viability of their current business models. In an era of flat or declining print sales, university presses might be discouraged by the fact that e-books, to which most sectors of publishing have pinned their hope for a rebound in an era of flat or declining print sales and scarce resources, have failed to gain traction.
But there is anecdotal evidence from some presses that e-book sales have jumped in the months since the association collected its data. Several presses contacted by Inside Higher Ed reported that their e-book sales have risen significantly in the first part of 2011. While e-books still account for a small proportion of total sales even in these cases, the presses see the uptick as an encouraging sign that there is a market for electronic versions of “serious nonfiction” works after all — and that market might finally be stirring.