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Friday, August 16, 2013

E-Book Sales Pattern Hard to Decipher

Sales of e-books may be leveling off as more consumers switch to tablets, which allow users to access a variety of content, not just e-books. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rough Type blogger Nicholas Carr, who has recently been taking some heat for his analysis.

Based on sales figures supplied by the Association of American Publishers, Carr thought he spotted a trend: slowing growth in e-book sales, signifying that e-books are reaching a plateau with the public. The decelerating sales appeared to coincide with the acceleration of tablet sales. Carr speculated tablet users were pulled away from e-books by all the other things they could do with their devices.

David Ulin, in the Los Angeles Times’ Jacket Copy blog, thinks Carr makes some good points about tablets and how people use them. Ulin himself admits to being distracted by other options when he’s reading on a tablet.

But the AAP took issue with Carr’s interpretation of its numbers, pointing out that last year’s e-book sales were inflated by The Hunger Games series. This year there hasn’t been a similar phenomenon in the book world. Minus The Hunger Games, the year-over-year e-book growth is much higher and doesn’t seem to correlate to tablet sales.

Blogger/author Nathan Bransford agrees. “Everyone needs to stop fixating on YOY percentage growth. Even at a steady rate of overall growth, percentage growth inevitably goes down because it’s starting from a bigger base. It’s simple math,” he says, adding that the AAP sales figures don’t count self-published e-books sold directly.

It’s also possible that tablet buyers are still acquiring and reading as many—or even more—e-books as ever, but just not purchasing them outright. AAP tracks only sales, but e-book rentals are on the upswing, too, mostly for digital textbooks. Public and campus libraries are stocking more e-books for borrowing and report rising interest in e-book loans.

And then there are thousands of e-book titles available for free downloading. Some are classics in the public domain; others are distributed by authors, speakers, entrepreneurs, and organizations.

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