E-books accounted for 7% of consumer spending on books in 2011 and 14% of units purchased, according to the most recent data from Bowker Market Research. In 2010, e-books had a 2% share of dollars and a 4% share of units. The wide discrepancy between unit and spending gains reflects the lower price e-books have compared to print formats, especially hardcover. The increase in spending on e-books came largely at the expense of hardcover, with the market share for hardcovers falling from 42% in 2010 to 39% last year. In 2009, hardcovers held a 46% share of spending. Unit sales of hardcovers took a slightly steeper drop last year, falling from 34% of titles sold to 29%. Trade paperback fared better, with the Bowker data showing that after holding steady at 36% of spending in 2009 and 2010, trade paperback accounted for 37% of spending last year despite a dip in its share of units. The mass market paperback segment has had a steady decline in units and dollars between 2009 and 2011, with units falling from 18% in 2010 to 14% in 2011; its share of spending fell last year to 7% from 8% in 2010.

The Bowker numbers also illustrate the inroads e-books have made among some of the largest genres, but also show the impact the lower prices of e-books can have as increases in unit gains markedly outpaced share gains in spending. In the mystery/detective category, for example (which had the highest percentage of e-book sales among the major genres), e-books’ market share of units purchased rose to 24% last year from 6% in 2010, but its share of spending, while up 12 percentage points to 17%, trailed the much larger gain posted by unit increases. Among the print formats, paperbacks’ share of units fell to 47% from 60%, while hardcovers accounted for 27% of units sold in 2011, down from 32% in the prior year. In terms of spending, paperbacks accounted for 41% of sales last year, down from 47%, while spending on hardcovers fell from 45% to 39%.

Just behind mystery/detective among the top genres where e-books are the most popular were espionage/thriller, with e-books generating 15% of sales, up from 4% in 2010, and romance, where e-books also accounted for 15% of sales, up from 5%. In science fiction, e-book sales rose to 14% of all sales, up from 5%. In all three categories, units were more than a 20% share of purchases in 2010.

More information on how the shifts in formats are affecting different aspects of publishing can be found in the “2011–2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics & Buying Behaviors,” which will be available from Bowker later this year.

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