It seems that the reports of the death of the print book (or book book!) are greatly exaggerated. Print book sales actually grew somewhat this past year, although, according to this Fortune article, this was driven heavily by sales of adult coloring books and fiction, particularly the release of Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. This doesn’t exactly suggest an intellectual renaissance, but does suggest that with the recovering economy, people are buying more print books.
Perhaps the more interesting figure is the purported drop in e-book sales. Actually, the e-book market, according to another Forbes article, is growing at an annual rate of 1 percent. What is interesting is that the major publishers, who have been pressing for higher pricing of their e-books have seen sales drop, while indie publishers are seeing sales increases. Small and medium publishers, indie published, and Amazon published e-books all have seen sales increases. Only the big publishers have seen sales drop.
Both of these sets of figures suggests a much more nuanced picture of what is going on right now. It suggests that e-books are here to stay and in fact e-publications are providing new authors an alternative way to break into publication that authors may be learning to exploit more effectively. Likewise, people will still buy print books and many prefer them, particularly for certain forms of reading. Students for example, by a significant margin still prefer print over e-books for text books and studies show better comprehension when reading print texts, according to this recent Publishers Weekly article. Some are suggesting a hybrid of print and e-text may be best overall.
I wonder if one of the most significant factors in all these discussions is pricing. It is apparent that pricing has been a big factor in e-book sales, and also shapes the print market, particularly the second-hand market. There are some important issues for authors in all this, who do not benefit from the second-hand market and are affected by pricing both in terms of commissions per book and sales.
What’s apparent to me is that we are continuing to function in an era both of flux and new opportunities. The question remains of whether the market will support works on intellectual excellence and artistic merit. Perhaps the question is, will we?
Stop back tomorrow for a post on “the state of bookselling 2016”.