A survey of 600 publishers from across the industry spectrum found 64% now offering e-books with 74% of trade houses producing titles in that format. The trade and STM segments had the biggest gain in number of publishers producing e-books in the survey, the second one conducted by the conversion and technology services company Aptara. There was no dominant factor among the publishers that don’t produce e-books about why they haven’t entered the market, with 71% giving no particular reason for staying out of the business.

The profitability of e-books has been a point of contention between publishers and authors, and according to the survey 66% of trade houses have no clear picture if the return-on-investment from e-books is better or worse than for print books; 15% said the ROI was better, but 13% said it was worse. Aptara attributed the murky picture to publishers “retrofitting existing print workflows” to produce e-books, an inefficient process that inhibits publishers from producing cost savings. The report predicts that as more efficient and scalable digital workflows are implemented, and more backlist titles move to digital, ROI will improve. The two most important reasons trade houses move backlist books into e-books are a desire to extend the life of a title and market demand.

Publishers are still selling e-books from their own sites (38%), but Amazon is now a close second (37%), while the report found the iTunes store to be the fastest-growing distribution channel with 22% of publishers now offering e-books there compared to 9% last year. (The report did not ask respondents specifically if they sell through Apple’s iBookstore).

The top challenge in producing e-books—for all types of publishers—was content format and compatibility issues. Forty-five percent of all publishers said that was their biggest issue, up from 21% in the summer 2009 survey, a development attributed mainly to the plethora of new e-reading devices introduced into the market in the last year that adds to costs and confusion.

Despite some problems, 49% of all publishers said e-books are of “high importance” to their growth plans, with 55% of trade house putting e-books in that category.