in New York City, David Walter, executive director of client
solutions for NPD BookScan, cited two key factors that led
hardcover unit sales to overtake those of e-books last year: a
general rise in e-book prices—to about $9 for a trade title—due
to the imposition of agency pricing models in 2015, and a general shift away from the use of dedicated e-readers to smart-phones for e-book reading. Walter pointed out that publishers
did not lose a significant amount of total sales; consumers
migrated back to print rather than buying fewer books overall.
Indeed, total unit sales of print and e-book units dipped just
1.4% in 2016. (This figure excludes sales of board books and
physical audio; including those formats, sales rose 3.3%.)
E-book sales accounted for 22.9% of all unit sales in 2016, down
from 25.9% in 2015.
At publishers that report to NPD, unit sales of e-books have
fallen steadily since peaking at 243 million units sold in 2013.
Still, in 2016, e-book unit sales were up 165.2% from 2010.
The format that has seen the most severe long-term decline is
mass market paperback, where units are down 46.4% from
2010. That decline would have appeared more severe, but
Walmart was added to the BookScan panel in 2013, boosting
sales of mass market paperbacks reported to the service.
—Jim Milliot, with reporting by Ed Nawotka
E-tailers Widen Bookselling Edge
The online channel accounted for about 40% of U.S.book purchases in 2016
Even as unit sales of e-books released by traditional publishers fell 14.7% in 2016 compared to 2015, e-tailers’ share of all book sales continued to expand their lead over that of bookstores, according to research
released by NPD Group BookScan. Based on data drawn from
NPD’s Books & Consumers Survey of the U.S. public’s book-buying habits, e-tailers’ share of all book unit purchases hovered
around 40% in 2016, little changed from 2015. The share of
unit purchases made through bookstores, meanwhile, fell from
37% in 2015 to 33% last year. Sales through mass merchandisers
rose slightly between 2015 and 2016.
In 2016, e-tailers were able to hold onto their share of
overall unit sales despite the decline in e-book purchases by
slightly increasing their share of print book unit sales to
approximately 30%. Sales of print books through bookstores
slipped slightly, but bookstores still commanded about 40% of
print unit purchases in 2016.
Hardcover unit sales overall were up 5% over 2015, outselling e-books last year for the first time since 2011. (NPD
derives its e-book sales through Pub Track Digital, which
aggregates e-book unit sales supplied by more than 30 publishers, including the Big 5 trade houses.)
At BISG’s Making Information Pay conference held April 21
(in millions of units)
YEAR 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 CHANGE CHANGE
2015 V. 2016 2010 V. 2016
Hardcover 180 167 157 168 173 179 188 5.0% 4.4%
Mass Market Paperback110 83 66 80 72 66 59 - 10.6% - 46.4%
Trade Paperback 380 356 326 325 339 356 370 3.9% - 2.6%
E-book 69 164 215 243 238 210 179 - 14.7% 165.2%
UNIT SALES BY FORMAT, 2010–2016
SOURCE: NPD GROUP