We may be discovering that e-books are well suited to some types of books (like genre fiction) but not well suited to other types (like nonfiction and literary fiction) and are well suited to certain reading situations (plane trips) but less well suited to others (lying on the couch at home). The e-book may turn out to be more a complement to the printed book, as audiobooks have long been, rather than an outright substitute."
But I do believe there is a bigger issue that we have all been missing out on. When we see articles talking about e-book sales outselling print books, or articles talking about the rising trend in e-readers and so forth, we aren't looking at the bigger picture. When we examine book sales, we need to look at the total number of books being bought, in ALL formats. Consider these ideas:
- e-books sales account for only 20% of the sales...therefore print books are making up the other 80%
- when we consider e-book reader sales, we are including all type of tablets but not explaining what people are doing with these devices.
- if e-book sales are plateauing, then the odds are print books are doing the same thing.
If writers are finding it harder and harder to sell books and make a business out of this, regardless of the format they are working in (e-book or print) then we need to find a way to get the readership back up. In the end, this is a simple issue of supply and demand. Our supply (the authors and books) are up but the demand (the readers) is down. This means we need to make some changes.
I would argue several different things might help:
- Authors need to focus more on the quality of the book and not the sales. As an agent, I have honestly seen a decrease in the number of books that are really strong. Most read like templates or lack that depth necessary to suck a reader in.
- The supply needs to balance. We have flooded the market with so many books out there with the rise of self-publishing and e-publishing avenues (and this includes the traditional publishers adding into the mix their own "digital first" lines) that it is becoming difficult to wade through everything. Readers do not have the patience to go digging for a book.
- We have to encourage more "book stores." If you ask around, readers (mostly those who write) are constantly moaning about the loss of book stores. This is where they A) stumbled across new authors; and B) often bought more books than planned when they went into the story. Maybe the problem was that stores had gotten too big. In anthropology we call this gigantism, which, in the case of dinosaurs is a theory for their extinction. They became too big to survive.
- As writers, we have to promote reading.
- Schools need to promote reading for reading. Yes, we all hated reading time when we were in school, but when we were given the chance to pick what we want, and not forced to read for a grade only, we loved it.