For a while I have resisted the temptation to write a post about the print vs. digital sales switch, because trends don’t become trends till they have gone on long enough for a sufficiency of data to have accumulated. I’m not altogether sure we’ve gone long enough yet, but here’s a Bloomberg story which incorporates this graphic.
It may be that the trend line will switch again, but here it is. These trend line tabulations always look misleading of course. We are looking at rates of increase/decrease. If in year one you sell 500 e-books and in year two that goes up to 1,000 that represents an increase of 100%. If at the same time print-book sales move from 60 million to 59.9 million copies, that’s a decrease (which I refuse to spend time trying to calculate) but you know very well which bit of the pie you’d rather be holding. While looking at more or less 0% growth in one format and a 15% or so decline in another does at first glance appear pretty disastrous for the industry, do bear in mind that print sales represent about 75% of overall book sales, so a decline in the 25% portion doesn’t have as much of an effect as the graph might suggest. And those numbers on adults reading print books look amazingly positive to me. So positive I’m beginning to wonder if they can really be true.
I suspect the approaching maturity of the market is illustrated by the arrival of this post from Book Riot about the sorts of books one might prefer to read as e-books. The choice between e-book and p-book was never the naked moral choice presented by the ranting partisans of the new world. Surprise, surprise; the mature reader will find one format better for one purpose and the other format for another. I certainly agree with Ms Stinger about the suitability of the e-book format to the extremely long novels like A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s just too hard to carry gigantic books around. (A friend recently confessed to knifing a hardback apart to take the unread portion on vacation with her.)
Why should a switch from print to digital incur such fury: after all we never argue about whether it’s better to read War and Peace in hardback or paperback, though maybe they did when paperbacks were first invented. I once had a colleague who wanted books only in paperback (but then he also claimed only to like cylindrical food). I preferred the hardback editions even though they did take up a little more space on the shelf, which was his objection. No Jack Sprat treaty could be worked out though. We both liked different books as well as formats.