E-books have taken over

This year, in terms of revenue, e-books are now the best-selling book format. E-books now outsell trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, and hardcovers. Hardcover sales haven’t declined in the past year, but trade paperback sales (think how-to nonfiction titles) are down 10.5% and mass market paperbacks (think popular fiction) are down an astounding 20.8%.

I don’t think this is a big surprise to anyone. We like our instant gratification, and e-books certainly are that. And besides instant gratification, e-readers allow one to carry an entire library of books in a device small enough to fit in a pocket. And publishers like them because it destroys the secondhand market.

The surprise, to some, is that hardcover sales experienced a slight uptick while paperback sales took a dive. I think there’s a good explanation for that. People buy paperbacks to consume. They buy them, read them, then discard them when they’re finished with them. “Discard” might mean throwing them out, selling them for a quarter at a garage sale, or trading them in at a used book store. Hardcover books are a collectible and a status symbol. People buy copies of favorite authors, preferably first editions whenever possible, and hold on to them and display them. They may even buy both the hardcover and paperback, and read the paperback. Or the e-book, these days.

So why are hardcover sales up? The economy’s a bit better than it was a year ago.

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