Is there more to the recent reports of e-book declines than meets the eye?
It’s a plot twist worthy of best-seller status.
After a few years of meteoric growth that some said threatened the livelihood of the print book industry, sales of e-books have slowed significantly in the past several months. And while many industry analysts were preparing print’s eulogy, a far healthier bookstore scenario emerged as the real underdog success story.
“The media is catching up to something readers here at TNM have known for a while: digital media sales are slumping, caused by a number of things, but slumping, nonetheless,” writes D. B. Hebbard in Talking New Media.
“In July, the Association of American Publishers stats for Q1 of this year showed trade eBook sales down 7.5 percent, with print sales up a tick, though essentially flat (hardbound down, paperback up). Their latest stats show eBook sales through June down 10 percent.”
“So what’s happening?” Hebbard asks. “Are readers really rejecting digital reading products? Or are publishers, or their vendors to blame for the declines?”
Firstly, he notes that readers have always preferred print over the currently available digital platforms. Secondly, digital publishing efforts are often “embarrassingly bad.” And finally, digital book distribution has been hampered by the failure of the iBooks Store and Newsstand.
He also notes two sectors where e-books and other digital publications are gaining popularity – in corporate and public libraries, and in education.
“The advantages of digital, including nearly unlimited selection, ease of storage, and on-demand access, mean that digital publishing is superior to print in many ways that are important in these segments of the market,” Hebbard notes.
Still, for the casual individual book reader, the migration back to print is happening, and smaller independent booksellers are seeing the results.
“Now, there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper,” writes Alexander Alter in the New York Times.
“The e-book terror has kind of subsided,” agrees Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople, an independent bookstore in Austin where 2015 has been their best year yet.
“Independent bookstores, which were battered by the recession and competition from Amazon, are showing strong signs of resurgence,” continues Alter. “The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.”
Publishers are responding by boosting their print and distribution capabilities. Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Penguin Random House are all ramping up their warehousing space and restocking process.
“It’s a very simple thing; only books that are on the shelves can be sold,” said Penguin Random House’s Markus Dohle on their data-driven order recommendation system for booksellers.
Higher e-book prices, a drop in sales of Kindle and other e-readers, and a disappointing lack of quality in many of the self-published titles available may be partly to blame for the new ending to this story. Still, for those of us who love to put up our feet with a good book, we saw this one coming.