I’m not sure whether any of us pro-ebook pundits was actually expecting the death of the printed book, but it seems a lot of people thought we were. So much so that Book Patrol has decided it should proclaim that “The Worst is Over and The Book is not Dead.”

Rumors of the rumors of the death of the book were greatly exaggerated, maybe. I’m sure the book’s relatives and family are breathing a sigh of relief outside the OR.

So perhaps some people are jumping to correct a caricature impression here, but when it comes with such a funky infographic, who really cares? Now the death of the traditional publishing industry business model, that’s a different question. Walking dead hunt coming soon…

Infographic created by License Direct.


  1. As is normal, I find the statistics presented to be confusing and contradictory. The first graph shows that in 2012 eBooks had 22.6% “share of net revenue” (revenue to whom?) but the next chart shows that in 2012 there was 16% “digital distribution in the US by industry”.

    Does this mean that the publishers are making a huge profit on each eBook as compared to a much smaller profit on each paper book?

    Also, do these statistics include eBook only publishers, like Smashwords, or just the ‘big five’ traditional publishers?

    In any event, I always expected the change from paper to digital books to proceed slowly, because paper books have always been luggable. Although digital books are much more portable than paper, it is a difference of degree.

    What does surprise me, however, is that local bricks and mortar book stores can continue to make a profit after they have lost either 16 or 22 % of sales or revenue to people who buy digital books, and more sales and revenue to people who buy paper books from Amazon and have them delivered to their doors.

    My expectation for the development of eBooks was that we would be in a feedback cycle by now. That is, some marginal bricks and mortar book stores close. Some of the paper book buyers who were affected by the store closings switch to eBooks. The production cost of eBooks is spread over more copies, allowing the price of eBooks to fall. Meanwhile, print runs for new paper books are reduced and the distribution costs of paper books have to be carried by a smaller number of copies. The cost of paper books goes up, relative to eBooks. More customers switch to eBooks. Some more bricks and mortar stores close.

    In the end, however, it doesn’t matter to me. The eBook market is now big enough that I can get the eBooks I want when I want them. There are few, if any, mainstream publishers that refuse to make and sell eBooks, and “windowing” seems to be a thing of the past.

  2. One could argue that eBook sales have been artificially hobbled by the many negative side-effects of DRM. Nowhere is this more obvious than with digital textbooks which expire in 180 days or less, disallow copy and paste, etc. Most students still prefer paper textbooks according to the Nat’l Assn of Campus Stores research.

  3. Good post, Paul, and intriguing chart.

    Fred Fenton, 80 years young, is a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Concord,

    California. In a letter to the editor published in the New York Times

    the other day, he wrote —

    ”To the Editor”, [published in print and online paper]:

    “Booksellers Wary About Holiday Sales” (Business Day, Dec. 16) notes

    that e-book sales are down without citing what is perhaps the major

    reason for the decline. Digital sales were attractive to readers like

    me when most new titles were available for $9.99 or less. Now the

    price of e-books is in many cases approaching the cost of print books.

    No wonder “the e-book thrill is gone.”


    Concord, Calif., Dec. 16, 2013

  4. The data I have from Bookstats indicates that hardcover sales dropped $65 million in 2012. This includes all markets. I think the increase shown here may be a trade-only number, but it’s hard to figure out which source listed drives the claim.

    Also in the Bookstats database: retail sales from bricks-and-mortar outlets fell $554 million in 2012, to $7.5 billion. Sales through independent book stores fell about $14 million, to $479 million. Between 2008 and 2012, sales of mass-market paperbacks, the format sometimes considered most vulnerable to eBooks, fell $640 million, a drop of 43%.

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