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Industry News: Maybe e-Books Ain’t All that After All; Winners and Losers

January 12, 2013

A lot of people related to the publishing industry, including this august blogger, have taken it as an article of faith that at some point, the move from paper to electronic reading would hit a tipping point, and then everything would change. According to the Wall Street Journal, a set of recent studies is showing that assumption to be wr..wrrnrg…wrrnngg…not exactly right.

Here are the numbers:

  • A Pew Research Center Survey indicated that only 30% of respondents read even a single e-book in the last year. The percentage of adults that read an e-book rose from 16% to 23%–meaning more than three-quarters did not read an e-book. But 89% reported reading a regular book–including me (though I now prefer e-books).
  • Bowker Market Research said that 16% or Americans have actually purchased an e-book, and 59% say they have no desire to buy one.
  • Although e-book sales rose 34% last year, that’s down substantially from the enormous increases of previous years.
  • e-Reader says fell 36% last year. (That number is probably offset by tablet purchases. You really don’t need both.)

Add to that the long-standing preference of college students for print over electronic books, and you start to see a different picture. In general, according to the Journal, genre fiction, rather than non-fiction and literature, seems to work well on an e-reader. My daughter, for one, has explained that textbooks work very poorly on an e-reader. In spite of the enhanced search capability, you cannot write comments in the margins easily (you can annotate, but you typically can’t see the annotations without activating them). Also, you lose the spacial memory of where on the page a certain piece of information was. (“I know this was about halfway through the book on the right-hand page at the bottom…)

What this means to you: It means if you are a big fan of hardcopy books and you’ve been annoyed by the tech “geniuses” that made you feel out of the loop, you get to be annoying right back at them.

Beyond that, there are other implications. Many of the smaller publishers that have sprung up have relied heavily on electronic books. They’re cheaper to create and the supply chain consists of throwing them on a server and charging people for downloads. If the growth in e-reading were to level off, the bigger players benefit–the ones who already do book creation and logistics well–read Amazon the big five and some others.

In addition, it helps places like Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, who can offer best sellers at reduced price, along with Amazon. And while it would speak to a floor in terms of foot traffic for brick-and-mortars stores, it could also result in stress on Barnes & Nobles’ Nook business unit.

Another big winner could be libraries. With all the brawls ongoing between publishers and libraries, many libraries may be able to cut back on e-book purchases. If your budget were shrinking and 59% of your clientele had no desire to read e-books, what would you buy? Libraries may also do better with the hardcopy books as they give patrons reasons to show up.

  1. January 12, 2013 8:01 am

    Yippee! Being a traditionally-published author of a non-fiction hardcover book, all I can say is thanks for making my morning a bit brighter. But my joy is not all self-serving. To be honest I don’t have an e-reader. I enjoy the feel of a book in my hand. Further, I am at my computer all day writing, blogging, etc. so I want to cuddle up in bed at night with a book, not a machine. I was also concerned (as I’m sure most of us were) that “real” books (sorry) were going the way of the buggy whip – not so, you say! Thanks for the post. I will Tweet and FB it.

  2. January 12, 2013 8:10 am

    Reblogged this on The Art of the Visit and commented:
    Don’t get me wrong writer and reader friends, all good books should be read, e-reader or not, but I am thrilled it seems the “real” book may not be going away any time soon! Sorry, but I just don’t want to curl up in bed at night with a machine! Well, you know what I mean. Always enjoy your comments on the topic. Happy weekend. – Kathy

  3. Chris Hamilton permalink
    January 12, 2013 1:42 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Kathy. I didn’t think the hardcopy book would ever go away. I figured it would become an option that you paid extra for–maybe moreso than now. But a lot of the assumptions I made about the way the industry would go were based on the coming primacy of e-books. I may have to revisit those now.

  4. January 13, 2013 1:51 am


    People go the bookstores, take pictures of interesting books, then buy the e-books later on Amazon. The E-book industry is just starting. And, smart tech savy college students gladly buy or pirate text books online when able to do so, to save money. College text book prices are crazy high.

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