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New Simon & Schuster numbers indicate e-books equal dollars

May 4, 2011 | 11:11 am

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Big 6 publisher Simon & Schuster's first quarter earnings announcement included one significant number: Digital content generated 18% of total revenue in the period. Through 2010, e-books had topped out at about 10% of publishing's revenues.

Digging into the Simon & Schuster numbers, Publishers Weekly reports that 17 of those revenues came from e-books, with an additional 1% from digital audio. Publishers Weekly writes:

Simon & Schuster reported that profits more than doubled and sales rose 2% to $155 million....

“We got out of the gate faster than usual,” said S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy, led by sales of e-books that doubled in the quarter.... The steep increase in profits was attributed to lower shipping, production and returns costs as well as the “painful” belt-tightening that S&S has implemented over the last 18 months, plus the higher sales, Reidy said. The digital gains at S&S followed the announcement earlier Tuesday that Hachette Book Group’s e-book sales rose 88% in the quarter and represented 22% of revenue.

However, as e-book sales have risen, some print sales have fallen. Reidy expressed concern over the health of brick-and-mortar booksellers, noting, Publishers Weekly writes, "that the major concern in declining print units is what it means for the viability of physical stores, which she said are still vital to the health of S&S and all publishers."

Exactly how the balance between print and digital will play out -- whether it will vary by genre, have greater impact on hardcovers or paperbacks, and whether there are other variables that may affect e-book-versus-print sales -- remains to be seen.

At the Digitial Book World conference in January, some industry watchers speculated that e-book sales would rise to 50% of publishing revenues within five years. The rise in digital sales at Simon & Schuster and Hachette indicate that figure might indeed become a reality.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Amazon Kindle. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

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