There, I said it, and no, it isn’t just wishful thinking.

The raw numbers are in, thanks to the Association of American Publishers, and I’m delighted to pass on the news that the publishing business is not only alive and well, but growing. Comparing March 2011 to March 2010, we see overall growth of about 15%, up from $356,200,000 worth of books sold in March 2010 over all seven of the categories tracked to $407,200,000 in March 2011.

That means if your publisher is crying poverty, it probably means they’re doing something wrong. It’s not the economy, stupid, it’s most likely an over-reliance on retail, and on printed books over e-books.

Though with $69,000,000 worth of e-books sold in March of this year, e-books remain a small part of the overall publishing business, their growth can not me underestimated. In raw dollars, the e-book’s portion of the publishing business in March of this year is more than twice what it was in March of last year. This tends to support the assumptions of people, like me, who have predicted that e-books will double their market share every year before finding a stable point at about 80-90% of the overall business. If the industry stays stable, we can expect that e-books will make about $140,000,000 next March then $280,000,000 in March of 2013, and dominate the publishing business as a whole by the end of 2014.

Honestly, I think this is as close to a sure thing as you can get in this kind of business projection, and I’m banking a lot on it with my consulting practice, which helps creative studios (mostly video game developers) establish their own (primarily e-book driven) publishing programs.

Here’s how it looks, March-to-March, according to the Association of American Publishers, as reported on AuthorLink:

Category March 2011 March 2010 Percent change
Adult Hardcover $96.6M $91.2M +6.0%
Adult Paperback $115.9M $125.6M -7.7%
Adult Mass Market $55.2M $54.5M +1.2%
E-Books $69.0M $28.1M +145.7%
Religious Books $63.5M $49.8M +27.4%
University Press Hardcover $4.4M $4.5M -1.9%
University Press Paperback $2.6M $2.5M +7.1%

So publishing is not a dying business, but there is a major change in the works on the format front, with declines in paperbacks of $9.7 million more than made up for by a $40.9 million increase in e-book sales, accounting for the lion’s share of the overall revenue growth of $51 million over the same month last year.

This would indicate that e-books are bringing in new readers, not just stealing readers from struggling trade paperbacks.

And that’s got to be the best news of all.

What does this mean to authors? Easy: keep writing.

There will be a publisher for your work, and there is an audience for your work, and that audience is spending money on books. I’m a book lover, a book collector, and I have a special affinity for the paper book, but as a professional author I am and always have been, strictly in business terms, a content provider. From a mercenary standpoint I want my content—my story—sold in whatever format will get it to the biggest audience. If that’s an e-book in whatever format, read on whatever device, bring it on.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Mel Odom says:

    Hey Phil,

    I’m in full agreement. Everything I’m seeing points to the same things. Writers who work and take chances are writers that are going to find and build an audience. And you have to do it through good stories, not just Facebook.


  2. Pingback: Useful Links – Phil Athans | Monster Writes Words

  3. I also agree seeing as how Borders returns impacted out Print sales of Tabletop game products while my PDF sale of Tabletop game products keep growing.

  4. Craig says:

    Great post Philip, it’s nice to get some raw numbers. Most writing sites point to doom and gloom, and one gets the impression that there are only a few hundred people left reading on the planet, while everyone else just watches 30 second youtube clips while simultaneously playing Angry Bird on their iphone.

    Regarding the ebook sales, I agree 100% that it expands the market. I love my kindle, and the ease of which I can buy a book means that I tend to buy way more than I could possibly read. I think at some point though there may be a bit of a push back, as there are many non-fiction books I’ve bought on kindle that I wish I had bought in hard copy (such as your handbook). Going forward, the ol’ kindle will just be for fiction.

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