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Filling up Kindles Instead of Bookshelves
By Sandra Parshall of Poe's Deadly Daughters
-- Jo Henry, director of Bowker Market Research
Bowker, Pew Research, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), and other book market trackers continue to document the relentless growth of ebooks, along with the parallel decline in print book sales, and the changing attitudes of book buyers and readers.
The study that gets the most attention—because it’s big, in the number of book buyers surveyed, and it’s comprehensive in the range of questions it asks—is Bowker’s U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review. The latest study, based on information from almost 70,000 Americans who purchased books in 2012, is available in its exhaustive entirety from Bowker for $999, but the findings most important to writers, publishers, and booksellers have been reported piecemeal in various publications and on book-related websites.
Here’s what I’ve gleaned from different sources:
By the end of 2012, online retailers held 44% of the overall book market, up from 39% in 2011.
Bookstore chains held less than 20% of the market in 2012.
Ebooks grew to 11% of the market, up from 7% in 2011.
Readers who own ebook reading devices have radically altered their book buying habits. By the end of last year, 80% of purchases made by these buyers were digital, up from 74% in 2011. They prefer ebooks over mass market paperbacks. They made 76% of all their book purchases, print and digital, from online retailers. (Tablets, by the way, are rapidly replacing dedicated e-readers as the devices of choice, according to the latest news on that market.)
Women still buy more books than men, and the imbalance is growing. Women made 58% of book purchases in 2012, up from 55% in 2011. Hardcovers were the only category in which men led in purchases.
At the end of 2012, 53% of book buyers said the state of the economy did not make them cut back on their spending.
Digital sales represented 24% of spending in the mystery/detective fiction market, 25% in romance, and 22% in science fiction. In terms of units, however, ebooks made up more than one-third of sales in those categories. The survey breaks out espionage/thriller fiction as a separate category from crime fiction, with digital sales accounting for 18% of spending and more than 20% of units sold.
Also in the mystery/detective category, 35% of spending was for paperbacks, 37% for hardcovers, and 3% for audio books. In espionage/thriller fiction, 37% of spending was for paperbacks and 42% hardcovers.
In general fiction, 37% of spending was for paperbacks, 44% hardcovers, and 17% ebooks.
Despite the growth of ebooks, traditional print publishers didn’t cut back on production. On the contrary, they put out 3% more new titles in 2012 – 301,642, compared to 292,037 in 2011. At the same time, the production of reprint/print-on-demand/public domain titles rose to 1.4 million last year.
Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly Editorial Director and editor of Bowker’s Annual Review, noted with admirable understatement, “The book industry continued to change in some unexpected ways in 2012.”
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