Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Is the e-book boom over?
by Sandra Parshall
For years we’ve heard that e-books are taking over publishing, that sales are increasing at a phenomenal rate every year, that digital is going to save writers and the book business as a whole. Common estimates had e-book market share reaching as much as 80% in the near future.
But all that is over. Digital Book World, an incessant promoter of the e-book form, is now asking “What happened to e-book growth?” A Book Industry Study Group (BISG) report has the answer: it’s stagnating.
According to BISG, e-book market share has been flat, at around 30%, for the past year. Digital books account for under 15% of earnings.
And while a recent survey indicates that owners of e-book devices read as much as 60% more than other readers, BISG reports that the percentage of book buyers who read e-books at least once a week is stuck at around 20%. Only 25% of readers buy an e-book at least once a week.
However, BISG found that many readers plan to purchase e-book devices in the future, and say they will continue buying and reading e-books. The market may continue to grow, although much more slowly than in the first wild years of e-book popularity. Both the devices and the book format have quickly become established, acceptable alternatives to print, creating more and less expensive reading options and encouraging people to turn to books more often for entertainment. Mass market paperbacks, the most obvious victims of the digital revolution, continue to lose sales.
Digital book production is now an integral part of daily business at publishing houses large and small, and has inevitably led to changes as publishers view each acquisition as two separate entities, a print volume and an e-book. This article looks at how digital has altered production and workflow.
Agents and authors are increasingly concerned that publishers will eliminate print altogether for writers who aren’t proven mega-bestsellers. Publishers Weekly recently took a look at contracts that omit any guarantee of a print edition.
Meanwhile, the booming world of self-publishing is experiencing its own growing pains. Bowker reported that the number of self-published titles in 2012 was the highest ever.
But in writers’ groups around the internet, what you’ll see these days are a lot of posts about a dropoff in sales and, consequently, earnings. Free books no longer lead to big bumps in sales. Lowering prices doesn’t work as well as it used to. Some writers think the answer is to write faster and put out more titles, closer together. Others point out that readers already have devices loaded with more e-books, many of them downloaded for free, than they can ever hope to read. Whether they will devote additional space and reading time to more and more books by the same writers is questionable. An increasing number of authors prefer to be hybrids, publishing in both digital and traditional print forms, rather than limiting their options.
Meanwhile, who rules the e-book bestseller lists? The same Big Five publishers who own the print lists. The top 10 e-books for the week ending October 27 were:
Allegiant by Veronica Roth, HarperCollins
Sycamore Row by John Grisham, Penguin Random House
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, Penguin Random House
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Macmillan
Divergent by Veronica Roth, HarperCollins
Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Macmillan
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan, Hachette
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, Simon & Schuster
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Penguin Random House
The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks, Hachette