There have been a number of reports in the past year about the decline in the sales of e-books which based on this headline alone might make an aspiring author wonder if it is even worth it to try and self-publish or if the traditional route is indeed the best method.
I contend that the answer to this question is that it depends.
It depends on how you look at the publishing industry and how technology has affected that industry overall. When books were primarily in print the introduction of the paperback book was truly revolutionary in that it made reading more accessible and affordable, and the smaller more economical book size and material allowed more opportunities for new authors. It really wasn’t that long ago that advertising an author’s new work included the phrase, “first time in hardcover” as if rendered an increase in status of the author.
I suspect if we look at the statistics of when different print formats such as paperback and trade size were introduced that we would find a decrease in sales of hardcover just as there were declines in certain print markets when e-books were hot. E-books have actually been around for a very long time but there were many barriers to the market that were only challenged with the introduction of markets such as the one established with the Kindle.
But e-books are different than print, easier and cheaper to produce and the reader doesn’t even have to get out of his or her pajamas to buy the darn book. In fact that reader doesn’t even have to get out of bed. So what the heck is going on and why are e-book sales down? One source reports a decline in Adult Trade E-book sales down 4.5% and Children’s/YA is down a whopping 44%. So again, what the heck is going on?
Well, according to a very detailed and lengthy article at Publishers Weekly part of the reason may very well be that with e-books we are not just talking about the book itself, but also the device it’s actually read on. I know with my first book, published in 2012, I only published to the Kindle format and I did most of the formatting and cover work myself. The response was much less than I expected. With my next work, currently to be published later this year, I plan to use a publisher that will do the work for me and distribute my book to multiple platforms. It will be interesting to see what happens.
There’s also the issue that some people just like to read in print and depending on the materials I am sometimes one of those people. I prefer to read text books and anything with diagrams in print but I’m also a fan of reading newspapers online, yet, I read fiction almost exclusively on my Kindle. My neighbor wants nothing to do with e-books but is struggling to find print books either at the library or in print since the cost of print books continues to increase. She reads the newspaper in print only and recently complained to me that in the book review section of the newspaper (something that is hard to find these days) she found a book reviewed that she really wants to read but it is only available as an e-book.
Just as I never believed there would ever be a paperless office, I don’t believe print books are dead. Many, many decades ago when televisions became more affordable and started populate more and more homes the death of radio was announced but that didn’t happen either. In fact radio is very much alive and well and has evolved to stay relevant with current and potential customers.
One of the issues for e-books may very well be the wide range of devices that have to be used to access them for the reader. I know with my library at one point I couldn’t check out certain e-books because the only device I had that could accommodate the book was my actual computer and not my Kindle. I am not one to sit at my computer and read a book. I’ve since found ways to read those books on my Kindle device.
With the technological advances in laptops, tablets and smart phones, the device just may be less and less controlling of how we read e-books going forward, but there’s a new storm brewing for the reader’s attention and that is interactive books and embedded material to get the reader to engage on multiple levels with the story. This idea has actually been around for quite a while and gamers have been using many of the techniques and technological advances that regular readers will soon be exposed to in the coming years.
My assessment is that this interactive and embedded reading experience is as much a marketing tactic as anything else because in the final analysis the one thing that none of us can overlook is that at the end of the day, most of the businesses and publishers that bring us the reading material we enjoy need to make a profit. Authors first and foremost want to find readers who will enjoy what they have written but the paths to that end are many and varied, which brings me back to a topic I’ve written about before and that is discoverability. To modify a famous saying from a famous movie, just because you write it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to read it.
Here’s the link to the Publishers Weekly article and it is definitely worth your time to read it:
Maybe it is as the Publishers Weekly article suggests and e-books are just leveling out as happens with any product or market. I personally believe that e-books are here to stay or the major publishers wouldn’t be investing so many resources into providing the books electronically. Sometimes the book is only available electronically as publishers have discovered that this is a cost-effective way to determine if a new author is worthy of print, and not just in hardcover format.
I also recommend checking out the Consumer Electronic Show coverage about how technology, data and content are being packaged and delivered to consumers. It might just surprise you how much of this is related to readers and distribution. One of the speakers in the track titled Merging Content with New Technologies is from John Wiley and Sons, a publisher of educational materials. While it isn’t difficult to imagine publishers of educational materials being interested in evolving technologies, we’re still talking about delivering content to a reader.
Of course, readers are receptive to hearing a story told and, in fact, the idea of listening to a book has been around for quite some time, but with advancing technologies listening to a book is set to be a growing market or at least a growing option for readers as evidenced by Amazon’s purchase of Audible in 2008. The purchase was intended to bolster Amazon’s audio download offerings and compete with iTunes according to the article link below and indeed more books are available in audible format:
It won’t be long before all of the ways a reader wants to read or engage with a book will be available in a more transparent process. I just might like the idea of sitting on my couch and reading from my large flat screen TV and commanding “Next” when I want to turn the page or continue with the book in audible format when I need to get off the couch and do something else but still want to continue with the story, because after all, it is truly about the story.