Paperbacks and hardcovers still outselling e-books

According the latest survey from Nielsen, ebooks accounted for 23% of book unit sales in the first half of 2014. Hardcovers had 25% and paperbacks led the way with 42% of unit sales. (Other formats make up the remaining 10%.) This year’s survey only looked at new books and excluded data on used book sales.

The fact that print is still the dominant format with 67% combined unite sales in 2014 seems to suggest that the market has roughly stabilized. That print books are would be the majority of the market was hardly a sure bet even a few years ago. Many critics and pundits were certain that ebooks would dominate the market in as little as 5–10 years. However, we are 7 years removed from the first Kindle and ebook growth has slowed dramatically. A 67% unit sales means that paper books have an even more commanding share of dollars spent, since ebooks are much cheaper than hardcovers and cheaper than paperbacks on average. I wrote an essay to this effect a couple weeks ago, and it is nice to see the new data supports it.

Print lovers will surely rejoice at this news. But I’d say this is good news for everybody, not just print lovers. Different formats have different strengths, and it is a great thing that there is a healthy ebook market and a healthy print market. The so-called “format wars” may turn out not to be a war at all. Instead, we may see that the various formats can work together to expand literature and create more readers and markets.

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