Dürer: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Jane Friedman shows us The state of the publishing industry in five charts. It’s not a very pretty picture. Faithful friends of print should perhaps not take the chart showing the decline in e-reader sales (and the recent news that Waterstone’s in UK are stopping selling the Kindle because the sales are so low) as meaning print is king once more: think harder. Sure we are now in a dip in e-book sales, and print sales are holding up, or at least not declining so fast, but it’s early days (I do hate that sports commentator usage “early doors”). Longer range trends tell a truer picture than a quarter here and a quarter there: look at the charts: since 2009 print general fiction is down 37% having risen, it’s true 20% in the previous five years. Non-fiction’s down too*: where’s a print-o-phile to hide.

Besides, a decline in e-reader sales is merely a decline in e-reader sales. Maybe people are finding they prefer their smart phones or their tablet computers for reading. It certainly reduces the number of items you need to lug around if you get rid of your Kindle. Amazon themselves are perhaps responding to a trend by offering a $50 tablet computer. In an amazing revelation The New York Times has reported that print books sell better when publishers have increased the prices of their e-books. The Observer recounts this thrilling development.

To me the indicators remain constant: crudely put — trade publishing, especially fiction (and within fiction especially genre fiction), otherwise called reading for entertainment, is going to e-books and to indie- or self-publishing. Non-fiction, which covers a lot of pretty substantial categories, while declining overall, will continue use print for much of its range. Short runs rule here, and digital printing is made for this world. Shake-out, consolidation and ultimately desperation await our larger book manufacturing businesses.


* I’m a little confused about this slide. Ms. Friedman discusses it as if it showed print sales only, but it doesn’t say that on it, while the fiction slide did. Either way the general point remains the same of course.