This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal, ran an article titled, Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay, with the subtitle, The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing. Readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages.
I was fascinated to see such a claim because a year ago I did an interview and predicted that e-book growth would slow and print would still be a significant part of book purchases. The reporter was actually quite surprised and even said he disagreed with me. Now I admit my claim was not based on exhaustive research or statistics, but rather observing my habits and other readers who I know. Yes I do read e-books, but for me, certain books were best experienced in print. So while I have downloaded a number of books, I have also continued to purchase print books.
The author of this essay, Nicholas Carr, was basing his claims on more substantial evidence than his own reading habits, but offer some compelling arguments. Here is a quick summary.
- A Pew Research Center survey released last month showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.
- The Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That’s still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.
- A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book and that a whopping 59% say they have “no interest” in buying one.
- From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances.
- E-books, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don’t necessarily stop buying printed ones. In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes.
Only time will tell what formats will dominate, but if you read the full article and read the comments, you will see this topic creates some spirited debate. The most important implication for me is that authors should not abandon print as they think about going to market unless they are publishing very specific genre fiction books. Print should still be part of your go-to-market strategy.