The news reports were more than a bit surprising. Sales of ebooks peaked in 2011? Who knew?
That’s four whole years ago—and only three years after ebooks even started taking off.
Everything I had been hearing for years suggested that, as far as books were concerned, print was dying and digital was the future. I had been surprised that it was happening so fast, but I wasn’t at all surprised that it was happening. Digital was inexorably supplanting analogue in every area. So it was only a matter of time until print disappeared completely or became a niche market, like vinyl records, right?
Then I read a week or two ago that The New York Times was reporting that, according to the Association of American Publishers, ebook sales were down by 10 percent in the first five months of 2015. Various hypotheses have been offered to try to explain this. The most interesting ones are economic. Is it because ebook prices went up after three of the biggest publishers got control of their own pricing in the wake of a deal reached with Amazon? Did the market just reach a natural peak? Is it possible that sales aren’t actually down and that a portion of ebook sales have simply shifted to small boutique or self-publishers, which wouldn’t be included in the AAP figures? Of course, self-publishers like me would prefer the latter explanation. And it could make sense, if consumers are finding ebooks from big publishers too pricy, as self-published ebooks tend to cost quite a bit less.
A report last month on National Public Radio quoted experts as suggesting that readers prefer different media for different books and for different times and that the publishing world was simply settling into an equilibrium that provided the various formats they wanted—from hardcover to paperback and digital and audio. AAP CEO Michael Cader noted that sales of hardcover books were also down in the same period this year and that it had more to do with a lack of big blockbuster books, like The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey, which tend to drive big book sales.
It is the pseudonymous analyst (and author) Data Guy who is quoted by NPR as suggesting that the way the AAP reports sales now misses a whole lot of self-published books. His report, published with “self-publishing phenomenon” Hugh Howey, is called Author Earnings.
“According to Author Earnings,” said NPR’s Lynn Neary in the piece, “the ebook market is thriving, but traditional publishers’ share of it has slipped to about one-third. And Data Guy believes the ebook market will continue to grow well into the future.”
So we can be pretty sure that digital books are not some mere fad that will fade with time—and neither are paper books. Of course, we don’t know what new technological changes (digital receivers in eyeball lens implants, anyone?) might come along to confuse us all again and shake up things anew.
I just wish I had thought to give myself a really cool pseudonym like Data Guy.