Kindle Paperwhite (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
By USA Today
After three years of triple-digit increases, the number of e-books sold last year grew by only 43%.
And that's enough of a difference in the annual growth rate to have publishers talking about an e-book "slowdown," even as digital books remain the fastest-growing part of the market. They now account for about 20% of all book sales reported by publishers.
THE DEBATE: Print books still have appeal vs. e-books
Preliminary data from the annual BookStats study, released Wednesday by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, shows that 457 million e-books were sold last year. That's up 4456% since 2008, when just 10 million e-books were sold.
But it's still fewer than the 557 million hardcovers sold last year. (Paperback numbers are incomplete.)
• The "slowdown reflects a marketplace that is maturing with multiple formats - digital and print," says Michael Pietsch, CEO of the Hachette Book Group. He adds, "In all the talk about e-books, we often lose track of the fact that more than three out of four books sold in the U.S. are still printed ones."
• "We've just reached a point of natural resistance - there are people who really prefer to read on paper even if it is cheaper, faster and easier to read on a device," says Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant and organizer of the annual Digital Book World conference.
• "We still see a steady transition in reading from to print to digital," says Amazon vice president Russ Grandinetti. He attributes the smaller growth rate to "the law of large numbers. As e-books have grown from practically nothing, you can't expect it to keep doubling every year."
• "Consumers have settled into their book formats of choice," says Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch. "Physical book sales will have a longer tail than previously anticipated."
• "As iPads and other devices become more versatile and popular, more people are playing games or watching videos, rather than buying and reading e-books," says Michael Norris, an analyst with Simba Information, a market research firm. (A Simba survey found that 48% of iPad owners do not use e-books.)
The BookStats study shows that hardcover sales rose 6% last year; trade paperbacks dropped less than 1%. Figures are not yet available for the cheaper mass-market paperbacks, which are expected to be most affected by the rise of e-books.