US Publishers Earn More through Online Sales than Physical Stores

In a report from two entities that watch the publishing industry in the US, sales figures for 2013 show some surprising trends. These trends, followed by the Book Industry Study Group and the Association of American Publishers in their annual BookStats report, found several interesting changes in certain genres of the book market.

Adult non-fiction made the leap above juvenile fiction to be the top selling genre in 2013, but that’s to be expected since the kids’ market hasn’t had another Hunger Games to fill that gap. The lack of a repeat of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy meant adult fiction continued to do well but hasn’t been the breakout champion that it was when that series was selling.

The really interesting news, though, involved two aspects of the print versus ebook realm. First, ebooks sold better in 2013 by numbers of total sales, but actually resulted in less overall revenue than they have in the past; this may stem from the understanding of where ebook pricing should fall, and the fact that Amazon was able to discount ebooks again after the stripping away of agency pricing following the DOJ lawsuit against the Big Five publishers.

What is really telling, though, is that publishers in the US continue to far outsell in print and make more of their revenue off of physical editions, but that in 2013 they sold far more titles through online book retailers than they did through physical stores. While this can obviously be attributed to the dangerously low numbers of bookstores that are able to keep their doors open, it does speak to the issues such as the current battle between Amazon and Hachette Book Group.

If publishers are making the bulk of their revenue through online retailers, and Amazon is arguably the largest internet-based seller of books, why are publishers so afraid of the retailer’s behemoth grip on the industry? Why is there such a focus at publishing industry events on how to “take down Amazon” and conduct business in ways that don’t involve working with the “evil empire?” If it’s not broke, why are publishers scrambling to fix it?

The very simple answer is publishers are afraid of the control that Amazon holds over the market, and are even more afraid of what the bookselling landscape will look like once the last brick-and-mortar store closes its doors a la’ Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. For now, though, publishers would be wise to continue to reap the revenue that they can in order to put that income towards establishing their own connections with direct-to-consumer platforms.

Mercy Pilkington (1982 Posts)

is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of a hybrid publishing and consulting company.

  • tony greene

    I’m trying to help people that own their own sites to make a few dollars online too. Living in a place with nothing more than service jobs doesn’t help either.