People have scoffed at the adoption rate of e-books, but numbers for 2010 show that they accounted for nine to ten percent of all book sales this year.  With the holiday gift giving season now drawing to a close, pundits are left to speculate how many e-readers found their way into the hands of new customers, and will this cause the first few months of the new year to see unprecedented e-book sales.  It’s looking like the e-reader renaissance we have been promised for years may finally be coming to fruition.

Amazon KindleAs we go into 2011, publishers are predicting that e-book sales may climb by at least 50 percent, and, accordingly, are expanding their digital divisions to meet this new demand.  Sales doubled between 2009 and 2010, so it is not unreasonable to suspect that sales will grow by the number they are predicting, if not more.

“There’s definitely less doom and gloom,” Peter Ginna, the publisher and editorial director for Bloomsbury Press, told The New York Times. “Most of us publishers have seen big gains from electronic books this year. We’ve seen some tailing off of the print sales, but for most companies, the growth of e-books has been so great that there’s a lot of revenue coming from that side that’s sort of gravy for us. So we’re all feeling pretty good.”

There are, however, a few drawbacks to this new digital frontier.  On Christmas day, a quick check of the hottest trends in Google searches showed that number ten was, “free Kindle books”.  That isn’t going to line anyone’s pockets.

The potentially biggest problem is a catch-22 for the industry.  As digital book sales rise it will cut into the sales of retail store fronts, which, in turn, will make it more difficult for people to discover new authors and mid-level books.  “We’ve certainly learned the technology of creating e-books and distributing them,”  Laurence J. Kirshbaum, a literary agent, told the Times. “But the marketing side is still the Wild West. There’s a lot of digital availability now, but we still haven’t turned the key and opened the lock on how to sell e-books.”

There is a great point here, if you look at the lists of top selling e-books they are almost always the same as the print lists.  How are people going to discover the next Twilight (let us hope that doesn’t exist) if it isn’t immediately a best seller?  The retail stores are still an important part of the publishing food chain and publishers are going to have to remember that.  Course, it doesn’t hurt that they still account for 90 percent of their sales.

Publishing is going to have to find a balance in this brave new world, but it definitely looks like the e-book concept is here to stay with us for a while.

What say you?  Are you getting more interested in e-books?  How do you discover new writers?