There has been a spate of articles (for example this one on Publisher’s Weekly) recently resulting from a dip in sales of e-books, and possibly e-readers. This one on Bustle sounds the most alarmist but in fact is not, as you get down into the article. In the end they suggest that both formats will continue to co-exist, which is my own take.
What is more interesting to me is to see in which categories e-books sales are the strongest. It turns out that mystery and romance are the two leading categories. It appears that much of the dip in e-book sales was in the young adult category, where there was no blockbuster, like the Divergent series, to drive sales.
What I wonder is whether we are seeing a “leveling out” and “sorting out” after a “boom” in this new technology (the Bustle article points out that the Kindle only came out in 2007). Here are some of the ways I think this may all be sorting out:
1. It is interesting to me that genres that are doing best in sales are those that lend themselves to e-reading. I wonder if we are figuring out that e-readers are great for casual reading when we are on the fly (in airports or places with distractions) but that print works best when we are doing serious reading that requires concentration. Also, books don’t have other apps on them that interrupt us–a problem when you are trying to concentrate on a more serious piece.
2. I also wonder if some part of the sorting out just has to do with market saturation. For the past seven years, many of us have been acquiring e-readers, smart phones, and tablet computers. Most who want to use this technology for reading now have it. I’d be curious about how many “new users” vendors like Amazon or Apple are gaining.
3. Another factor in the sorting out is what I might call the “backlog” or “TBR” effect. Many of us who acquired e-readers or apps in the past few years have found how seductive and easy it is to download things we think are interesting and may be realizing we have virtual “to be read” stacks and are limiting new purchases.
4. Finally, I wonder, and some articles (for example, this one in the Washington Post) seem to indicate this, whether there is a renewed appreciation for the aesthetics of a book, both as we read and on our shelves. Naturally, this means that some types of books will be more “disposable” and we may prefer to acquire them in the generally cheaper electronic versions (as opposed to cheaply made paperback versions that we also don’t want to save). I wonder if this might eventually lead to greater attention to the aesthetics of the books that publishers think people will want to savor and keep. It actually makes sense to not manufacture books that are most likely to wear out and be trashed, ending up in a local landfill.
So, just as many of us thought the purported death of physical books to be greatly exaggerated, I also think e-books are with us to stay. What I hope is that we are learning to use this technology more wisely and appropriately. That would be a good thing.