After peaking in the first year of the pandemic, e-book sales fell dramatically last year, but they remain well above those of 2019.

Some 425,000 digital books were sold in 2021 in Quebec, an increase of nearly 28% compared to the year preceding the pandemic. Admittedly, this is a drop of almost 39% from the previous year’s record, but 2020 was a unique case, as libraries and bookstores were closed during the successive confinements which marked the year.

The distributor De Marque, which compiled this data, believes on the contrary that the digital book has become anchored in the habits of readers thanks to the pandemic. Quite a turnaround, since sales had stagnated since 2013 and the average reader seemed to be very attached to paper.

“There are many people for whom the use of the digital book was a mystery before the pandemic. They thought it looked complicated and were hesitant to try it. But during the pandemic, there was an initiation, and people saw that it was easier than it looked. We think that a habit has been created,” adds Mathieu Thériault, De Marque’s marketing director.

That said, the resurgence in popularity of digital books has not come at the expense of paper. Sales of traditional books in bookstores jumped 16% in 2021. The question now is whether the popularity of digital books will continue in 2022, with the return to normal.

Currently, two-thirds of revenue from e-book sales comes from individual buyers. Approximately one-third of sales are attributable to libraries. Adult fiction works dominate digital sales. “However, it is interesting to note that, in the institutional market, the [littérature] youth and non-fiction represent a more significant market share. For its part, comics (excluding youth) represent a very marginal share of sales in the two markets”, specifies De Marque by email.

The Growing Audiobook

Distributor De Marque is also delighted with the sales of audio books in Quebec last year. Yet fewer audiobooks found takers in the mainstream in 2021; the decline is close to 20% in this regard. During this time, however, the libraries continued to enrich their offer. “Institutional sales” soared 38% between 2020 and 2021; they accounted for more than 60% of revenue from e-book sales last year.

Should we worry about this trend in the literary world? What good is reading when the audiobook continues to gain ground? “No one can say that the audio book will take the place of the paper book. This is not, in any case, what we notice. People who turn to the audio book already love literature, and the audio book allows another use. For example, it allows you to listen to a book while driving in traffic or while working. We already do it with music, why not with books? says Mathieu Thériault.

It should be noted that religious works and books on spirituality and personal growth account for a significant proportion of audio books that find takers in Quebec.

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E-book sales remain strong