I always assumed ebooks would eventually rule the publishing world, but that the coup would be a largely bloodless one, accomplished far more slowly than the early (and rapid) growth of ebook sales suggested. At some point, I assumed, ebook sales would plateau as the supply of early adopters was exhausted, and growth would occur slowly.
I’m a blogger, so naturally, those conclusions aren’t based on data as much as a globalization of my own thoughts (yes, megalomania is setting in), so happily for me, the thought-provoking Nicholas Carr notes the slowing growth of ebook sales, and the return of some readers to print:
A lot of other data came out during the course of 2012 that also suggests that (a) the growth in e-book sales has slowed substantially and (b) print sales are holding up pretty well. At a conference in March, Bowker released market research showing that, even though just 20 percent of American web users have actually purchased an e-book, e-book sales growth has already “slowed dramatically” from the explosive levels of the last few years and is now settling down at an “incremental” rate.
There are, reports Bowker, signs of “some level of saturation” in the e-book market, and, strikingly, the heaviest buyers of e-books are now buying more, not fewer, printed books. The Association of American Publishers recently reported that annual growth in adult e-book sales dropped to 34 percent during the first half of 2012, a sharp falloff from the triple digit gains of the previous few years. As of August, e-book sales represented 21 percent of total sales of adult trade books. While e-book sales seem to be eating away at mass-market paperback sales, which have been falling at around a 20 percent annual clip, hardcover sales appear to be holding steady, increasing at about a 2 percent annual rate.
Disposable Convenience vs Fetish Objects
Books I’m likely going to read once are always digital; there’s no used copy cluttering up my shelves or looking for a new home. This typically includes genre categories like sci-fi and
Some books — those I anticipate having legs — are bought in print. I won’t experience DRM or format issues down the line, and here comes the biggie: If I really like it, I can give it to a friend or relative, thereby converting them to the cause/writer/series.
(Sub-thought: I wonder if the inability to pass along a rights-managed ebook will hurt new authors in the long run, resulting in an “authorial consolidation” similar to the corporate consolidation we’re seeing in so many industries.)
That said, I’m more likely to read a book if it’s in digital form, and like most readers, I’ve largely abandoned my dedicated ereader for a tablet. My “to-read” list is about 50 titles long, and most of the titles that seem stuck on the list are piled up beside the nightstand.
The ebook vs print book meme hasn’t exactly generated a lot of heated discussion, but then, book people almost never resort to name calling (if you feel compelled to call me a philistine for my support of ebooks, feel free to do so in the comments section).
Keep writing (and reading), Tom Chandler.