Highlights Of 2011: The Year In Book Publishing, By The Numbers

This is the second in a series of posts over this week that looks at the most significant developments of this year in the sectors that we cover, from publishing to mobile to advertising.

From Borders’ bankruptcy to Amazon’s ambitions, it was a busy year in book publishing. Here are five numbers to put 2011 in focus.

20: The percentage of book sales that are digital at big-six publishers Random House and Hachette, with other publishers well on their way to reaching that point. It’s estimated that e-books made up 6.4 percent of the trade book market in 2010, and though we don’t yet have an overall figure for 2011, we know many publishers saw triple-digit e-book growth this year thanks to the increased availability of books in digital formats and affordability of e-readers. In addition, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) reported this year that it now sells more e-books than print books. Companies without a plan for the digital shift (some argue that includes big-six publishers) are in danger of obscurity; this year, bankrupt bookstore chain Borders shuttered its remaining stores.

$79: The price of Amazon’s cheapest Kindle, the ad-supported Kindle 4 with Special Offers. In the last quarter of this year, we saw e-ink e-readers drop below $100 for the first time–and not just older models but the newest-generation devices. The Kindle Touch with Special Offers is $99, the ad-supported Kobo Touch with Offers is $99.99 and Barnes & Noble’s ad-free Nook Simple Touch is now $99. The e-readers’ sub-$100 prices move them into impulse-purchase territory, while Amazon’s $199 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet has emerged as the first credible iPad competitor.

100,000+: The number of original e-singles that longform journalism site Byliner has sold since April. Many newspaper, magazine, book and website publishers, from the LA Times to kids’ book publisher Scholastic, started publishing e-singles this year–standalone works of fiction and nonfiction that are longer than typical articles but shorter than full-length books. E-singles are a logical (and inexpensive) way to monetize previously published content or introduce new ideas “at their natural length,” as Amazon’s Kindle Singles puts it. It remains to be seen whether e-singles priced at $1.99 or $2.99 can bring publishers a significant source of revenue, but 2011 provided us with many testing grounds.

$9.99: The price around which class-action lawsuits against Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and publishers are centered, and the price that Amazon charged for a New York Times (NYSE: NYT) bestseller before big-six publishers adopted agency pricing, which allows them to set the prices of their own e-books.

The lawsuits that emerged this year argue that Apple and publishers who use the agency model are guilty of collusion and price-fixing. Investigations into agency pricing are also taking place in the UK. Expect the e-book pricing debate to reach new heights in 2012 when these cases are argued in court.

450: The number of titles that Amazon bought from children’s publisher Marshall Cavendish. The books provide the basis of Amazon’s new NYC-based children’s publishing imprint; all will be available in digital format as well as print. Amazon’s acquisition of the Marshall Cavendish titles earlier this month was just the latest in a string of publishing imprints it has launched this year. The company now has seven imprints plus a New York-based division, publishing everything from science fiction to romance, and its ambition to become a full-fledged publisher–including the hiring of publishing industry vet Larry Kirshbaum to run the business in NYC–became truly apparent this year.

Read the rest of the posts in our Highlights of 2011 archives.