EBooks vs Paper Books

There’s been a lot of discussion about EBooks and Paper books. A lot of the arguments have been anecdotal. Let’s look at some numbers.

Part of the problem is of course, finding the numbers. The agencies and companies that collect statistics want to be paid for their work, therefore the information available to a non-corporate researched is limited.

But some digging did come up with the following information – note that this is United States figures only.

  • 2009 – ebooks 2.7% of the market
  • 2010 – ebooks 7.2% of the market
  • 2011 – ebooks 11.7% of the market
  • 2012 – ebooks 14.9% of the market
  • 2013 – ebooks 18.4% of the market

The information for 2014 won’t be released until March of 2015. I’ve seen several projections for 2014, but they are only projections, and not reliable.


Percentage of sales represented by eBooks
Percentage of sales represented by eBooks

Looking at the graph, we can see how numbers are increasing. The rate of increase has averaged 3.925% per year since 2009. Assuming that the rate of increase remains the same, eBooks would be 81.2% of the market by 2029.

Projected ebook market share, 3.925% increase per year
Projected ebook market share, 3.925% increase per year

We have no way to know if the percentage of the market held by ebooks will continued to increase at 3.925% per year. It may be lower, or it may be higher.

There are a variety of issues with projecting ebook market share. Some of them are:

  • Reader preference for paper books
  • Reader preference for DRM free ebooks
  • Reader finances (the Financial Crisis may have increased ebook uptake)
  • Reader finances (as production volumes drop, paper books will become more expensive)
  • Writers deciding to self publish (which most often means ebooks only)

The only safe projection we can make is that ebook sales will continue to become a larger percentage of book sales. We cannot project when that increase will taper off, or stop.

Comparisons have been made between the introduction of ebooks and the introduction of paperbacks. In both cases the new format offered reduced prices to readers, which increased the percentage of the population reading books. How big of a percentage of the population will start reading is unknown at present.

In closing, ebooks will continue to gain market share for some time yet. While there are still solid reasons to buy print books, it appears that the print book may soon become a niche market.


Wayne Borean

Wednesday October 29, 2014



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