Word for Word: Don’t buy the myth about ebook slump

The Hunger Games: no titles have quite grabbed readers like Fifty Shades of Grey and this record-breaking book did, so ebook sales have suffered.

Since late summer 2013 dozens of articles have been written about how ebook sales have peaked or are plateauing, maybe even falling back. The major source for the speculation has been American Association of Publishers (AAP) data showing a softening of ebook sales since the first quarter of 2013 when compared with 2012.

Nicholas Carr, Pulitzer prize nominated author of The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, wrote twice last year about the topic and his was a particularly persuasive voice. Then, before Christmas, the New York Times ran a piece on how independent booksellers were expecting better print sales because of the drop in ebooks sales.

There’s only one problem with the trend story – it’s wrong. Ebooks have no more peaked than digital music or social media usage has peaked. While it is certainly true that some publishers have seen a softening of sales in 2013, that is mostly because 2012 was such a huge success in ebook terms, especially for certain titles like Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games. Sadly no titles have quite grabbed readers like those record- breaking books did, so sales have suffered.

What’s more, the AAP data does not capture sales by the self-published or indie author market. This segment makes up 25 per cent of Amazon’s ebook sales. Such sales are also increasing for other retailers such as Kobo, despite the much publicised recent controversy over self-published ebooks of questionable taste (and questionable legality) that appeared on Kobo’s catalogue.It has since purged the offending titles.


One of the problems is that ebooks have become so large a market, more than $1 billion in the US alone in 2013, and have grown so quickly, that even large increases now appear quite small in percentage terms, and modest increases seem tiny. Ebooks outside of the US continue to grow – markets such as Ireland, France, Spain and Germany are only now beginning to see the growth that the UK & US markets experienced two and three years ago. That growth has not been factored into AAP figures. If it had been, there would have been no pieces about falling ebook sales.

So ebook sales are not falling, the print book is not roaring back into vogue and the trend of stories about their perilous future is just a passing one, to be forgotten as soon as the full story can be told.

Eoin Purcell is commissioning editor at New Island Books. He blogs at eoinpurcellsblog.com