With the evolution of the e-book still clearly in its formative years, developments over the past year could perhaps be remembered as a real growth spurt thanks in part to Amazon’s launch of the Kindle. Reviews on the digital device were mixed, but it quickly sold out within hours of its debut on Amazon.com. Goldman Sachs has estimated that Amazon has sold as many as 50,000 of the devices in the first quarter of 2008. And Amazon has made more than 120,000 titles available for download on the device since its launch.
It’s too early to tell, however, whether the Kindle has directly spurred sales of e-books. Reliable numbers on e-book sales are difficult to come by, but the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) estimates that the wholesale market for e-books in the United States approached $32 million in 2007, based on figures reported by 12-15 trade publishers—which Michael Smith, IDPF executive director, says comprise an estimated 75-percent to 80-percent of the trade publishing market. In 2002, when the IDPF began collecting statistics on e-book wholesale revenues, the figure was approximately $5.7 million. That’s a growth trajectory of more than 500 percent over five years.
The growth has continued in 2008. U.S. trade e-book sales were $4.4 million in March, according to sales statistics from IDPF and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), a notable, 58.9-percent increase over the same month last year. The first quarter of 2008 is the first-ever quarter to eclipse $10 million in trade e-book sales.
There is no doubt that e-books are growing, said Matt Shatz, vice president of digital, Random House, at IDPF’s Digital Book 2008 on May 14 in New York. According to Shatz, this growth is directly attributable to four factors: improved technology, consumer behavior, marketing and distribution muscle, and improved and more expansive title selection.
Laura Dawson is CEO of Numerical Gurus, LLC, consulting company providing services to the information, librarym and book industries. Dawson has consulted to numerous organizations in these verticals, primarily focusing on solving problems related to metadata, identifiers, Linked Data, semantic web applications, and structured content.