Still waiting for the hockey stick: IDPF Q2 e-book numbers show growth accelerating

IDPF final Q2Following up on Monday’s analysis of the growth of sales in e-books, the IDPF has released final Q2 e-book sales figures, which totaled $37.6 million. It shows accelerated, not exponential growth. That makes the resolution of early problems with e-book publishing, such as providing customers assurance their e-book files will be readable across devices over time all the more important, because any backlash now will cut off growth. It will be interesting to see if the Amazon 1984 event will stunt growth in sales.

Growth year-over-year reached 224.14 percent in Q2, slightly above the estimate provided here. More encouraging is the quarter-to-quarter growth of 45.75 percent, which is only a slight decline compared to Q1 growth of 53.57 percent. In previous years, the second quarter’s growth has fallen off more steeply from Q2, so the numbers suggest that growth is established based on the wider adoption of devices.

Nevertheless, the e-book market growth remains well below the exponential increases everyone would like to see. It’s a delicate time for this market.

Have e-book sales gone exponential?

Trade Stats_09_03The trend line for e-book sales has hit an inflection point, a glance at the IDPF graphic (right) and other data at the IDPF site suggests. The graph represents wholesale e-book revenue by quarter and, as you can see, Q1 sales leaped substantially beyond earlier quarters. Bookselling has always been extremely seasonal, with most revenue falling in the last half of the year, so the rest of the year may, if the increase continues, represent the beginning of a steep rise in revenue for e-books.

A certain perspective is needed with these numbers, however. They represent “wholesale” sales, rather than retail sales. For example, if you add up the 2008 sales by quarter provided here ($53.5 million) and compare them against the annual sales reported by the Association of American Publishers, which were $113 million in 2008, these figures only represent 47 percent of the total revenue from e-books reported. Moreover, they are slightly counter-cyclical, with later quarters in the year growing less than Q1 and Q2. In fact, these numbers are only U.S. e-book revenues for a small sample of “wholesale channels.”

I think, because of the absence of inventories with e-books, that a different word than “wholesale” is needed. It’s a small but useful sample that can be helpful in understanding sales.

In any case, the question still remains, does Q1 2009 represent an inflection point at which sales will increase on an exponential curve, the Continue reading