Monthly ebook sales as measured by the AAP from 14 reporting publishers ebbed in March–which we were expecting–more or less on par with the second-biggest ebook sales month on record (January 2011), at $69 million. That puts ebooks behind adult trade hardcover and trade paperbacks for the month, and they comprised less than 17 percent of all trade sales for March.
Why was a pullback from February’s $90.3 million expected? For starters, March is when Random House moved to the agency model, which means their ebook receipts should have declined, all things being equal. Just as important, recent quarterly earnings reports signalled that February’s AAP report in which ebooks comprised 28.5 percent of sales would not hold.
In reporting sales the first quarter of 2011, HarperCollins said US ebook sales were 19 percent. Simon & Schuster said ebooks were 17 percent of sales worldwide (so a somewhat higher percentage of US-only sales), and Hachette Book Group’s US ebook sales were 22 percent. In March, the less fiction-oriented John Wiley & Sons reported ebook sales were growing quickly, but still at just 4.4 percent of trade and professional sales in their third quarter. The AAP reporting has total ebook sales for the first quarter of $229.2 million comprising 22.5 percent of reported trade sales for the period.
The best news for publishers is that March is the first time in 2011 that total trade sales were ahead of last year’s numbers, and by a good margin. With print sales falling only $20 million and ebook sales rising $41 million, total trade sales for March of $413.5 million were up about $21 million–or more than 5 percent–from the same month a year ago.
Less formal data from the UK shows a similar ebb in March ebook sales. BML reported consumer survey information (which is a very different way of measuring sales) that indicated ebooks went from 3 percent of sales in a four-week period covering most of February to 2.5 percent of sales in a four-week period covering most of March, the Bookseller reports.
While ebooks may comprise a smaller segment of AAP sales this month, Amazon says there is no reversal in their sales trends. The etailer declared this morning that “Amazon.com customers are now purchasing more Kindle books than all print books – hardcover and paperback – combined.” They add that, “Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition.” Amazon says ebook unit sales are more than three times sales for the same period in 2010.
They also reiterate that their print book sales continue to grow–taking share from everyone else–and say their US books business overall, including ebooks, is showing “the fastest year-over-year growth rate, in both units and dollars, in over 10 years.” (Even though, in their public reporting, the North American media segment has been showing relatively sluggish growth compared to the rest of the company.)
In the UK, Amazon says Kindle sales have surpassed hardcover sales, and since April 1 are outselling hardcovers “at a rate of more than 2 to 1.”