Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Give Up On Print Books Yet

Recently, I read an interesting statistics regarding ownership of e-readers in the US. It got me thinking that for many out there in publishing, the moves they are making now in terms of "shifting" to an electonic market may be a bit hasty. The statistic showed that only about a 1/4 of the adults out there own e-readers. Now, they didn't specify what type but I do have to guess that people with iPads probably are clumped into this group as well.

So what does this tell us?

On the first level, it says that there is still 3/4 of the population that are not making the move to e-readers. Why? We can only guess. For some it may be the cost of the books. For others, it may be the argument of the "feel of the book." For others, it may be a dread fear of technology. Regardless of why, the numbers still say there is a huge number of readers out there not on that e-book bandwagon.

What I find interesting is the number of publishing companies that are now thinking they want to dive into the digital only market. I guess I have to question...WHY? If the money is tough to come by right now, why would you invest in a product that can only read 1/4 of the readership and, in many cases, at a cheaper cost? It would seem to me that a better move would be to focus in on that other 3/4.

I also find it interesting when I hear of the number of writers out there putting all of their eggs in one basket and really pushing this e-pub only movement. I do have to stress, I am talking here about NEW authors. Those authors tossing their backlists into an e-pub program might as well. This may be a way to extend the life of their books. The people I am talking about are those new writers.

I know what these people are saying though. They do this because the print market won't take their books. Yes, I know part of that is because the traditional publishers are scaling back, but in far more cases (clearly an overwhelming majority) it is simply because the writing is not good. (But I digress here).

I personally applaud publishers such as Harlequin who utilize the e-pub market as a way to both extend the life of an author as well as a promotion tool. The free reads online, the links to electronic stories that are connected to the main print books. This is a great use of the technology.

In the end, I would simply have to say, let's stop and think a bit. No, we don't have to live in the dark ages. Yes, we should pay attention to technology. But, don't abandon that other 3/4.


P.S. We also have to remember that when we hear of people buying books online, this doesn't mean they are buying electronic books. They are buying print books via the internet. Don't confuse that.


  1. Glad to see this post, Scott. I've had an e-reader for several months now, and the fun has begun to wear off. I'm still buying print books as well as e-books, depending on the book, because there's just something about a print book that is more satisfying.I think both are here to stay.

  2. Hmmm. Not sure I'm going to be able to phrase this in a way that will make sense. But I believe that the statistic "percent of adults who own e-readers" is irrelevant. Because we all know that all adults are not readers. I know many adults who have not sat down and read a book cover to cover in decades.

    So it seems to me the only statistic that would matter is "Percent of adult READERS who own e-readers."

    Since I've not seen that statistic gathered anywhere, I can only guess--but my guess is that it would be much higher. Of the adults I know who regularly buy books, probably about 1/2 have e-readers, and another large chunk says they'll get one within the next year.

    Yes, there will always be those holdouts who love their dead trees, and I don't blame them. So I don't think print books are going away anytime soon. I do think that the selection in print will diminish. Publishers will not take the risk or large print runs of harcopy books for newer authors. They're more likely to start new authors out digitally, and then move the ones who sell well into print editions also.

    But that's just my $.02 worth. It'll be interesting to see what happens either way.

  3. Hi Scott,

    It's great to hear that there's still a market for paper books. I have shelves of them.

    As one of the "new writers" you mention, I tried for years to have my books published traditionally. My writing has won awards, I have blurbs from NY Times Bestselling authors, and I've had three agents, but the publishers would never take a chance on my books; they just didn't fit into the limited parameters of what the publishers wanted. Consequently, about a year and a half ago, I began to self-publish. It's the best move I've made regarding writing: My books are selling, and I even have fans. Plus I've made far more money than I would have received on an advance.

    Most of the books I sell are epublished. Though the majority of readers may still be buying paper books, no one can deny that epublishing continues to accelerate. How else would it be possible for me, a relatively unknown writer, to make over three thousand dollars last December?

  4. For me, honestly, e-readers are never the same. I hate them. I will always buy paper books. And I know technically e-readers are better for the environment, but I think that is not exactly the way to go in order to save the planet from itself (by banning paperbooks).

    Really, though, paperbooks will never fully go away. They are staple of our society, I think

  5. It is time to give up on paper books, and that statistic is proof. Out of the adult population, how many actually actively read books? I'll wager it's nothing near 100%.

    Given the TV- and internet-obsessed culture we live in, I'd say the percentage of people who curl up with a book is smaller than it was a few decades back.

    You bring up the point on iPads as if it corrupts the statistic. In fact, it doesn't go far enough. Our culture loves computers and computerized phones. Does that statistic include people who read books on their phones and computers?

    The question is: What percentage of adults who read regularly own a non-paper device?

    I'll bet it's much higher than 25%. And whatever it is, it's also growing at a fast pace.

    Paper books are just a niche market.

  6. Excellent article Scott, and timely. My husband gave me a Kindle for Christmas this year, and I love it. My father gave my mother a Nook for Christmas because she's always been an avid reader, but can no longer read the smaller print of the print books. On the ereader, she can enlarge the font to where she needs it. She's thrilled that she can finally read books again. I also truly believe the next generation, my adult children and young grandchildren, using ereaders more and more. They are technology driven and they like the options the ereaders give them, coupled with the fact they are keenly environmentally responsible. They'd rather have the technology and not worry about what to do with the print books. I'm also convinced that the future will see more text books move onto ereaders for students. What a difference if a college or university student can purchase an etext book for classes, cheaper than print, and rather than lugging all those heavy volumes around, or keeping them in a locker, they can have all their text books with them all the time! Yes, print will stay around for quite a while, but I truly think ereaders are the wave of the future. Those in the writing and publishing industry would be fools to ignore the writing on the wall (so to speak). As in finance, when and where possible, diversify to capture as much of the market share as possible. imho

  7. You sure like to play safe with the numbers, Scott!

    Only a quarter of adults have ereaders?

    That's one HUGE number! A quarter of adults have gone from not having an ereader just a year or so ago to having one now, despite the fact that a vast number of trad-published books by some of the world's top authors aren't available to e-read. JK Rowling, anyone?

    Do you for one second believe that 25% is going to stay at 25%?

    You assert that new authors are turning to ebooks rather than trad publishers because in "most cases (clearly an overwhelming majority) it is simply because the writing is not good."

    And your evidence for this is what, exactly?

    Might new authors foregoing the trad publishers have more to do with the fact that publishers like Harlequin are among the stingiest on the planet when it comes to royalties?

    Can you honestly look your authors in the eye and tell them the average advance and royalties being paid out nowadays are better than if those writers self-published?

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  9. My daughter is studying to become chartered. An e-reader is a time effective tool for her, turning her one hour train commute into study time. My husband's e-reader died a few months out of warranty much to his disgust. Now he's reading a paperback. In my opinion both are here to stay. As for me, I am an unpublished author targeting Harlequin. I've just won the Gotcha and am a finalist in the Linda Howard Award. I don't have a back list so I am holding out for the opportunity to become traditionally published.

  10. I'm with Vickie on this one. Not all adults read and not all adults read equally.

    Nearly all of the vehement readers I know own e-readers now. I read more than your average adult ever will.

    I occasionally buy print books but that's now a special occasion for me. It's when I want the signed John Green book or I like the illustrations that come with a book. Sometimes it's a book I love so much I want to loan out. But it's a small percentage of the books I buy.