Print Books Stay Strong amid Dwindling E-Book Sales

Once again, the doomsday predictions prove untrue. While it was once believed that e-book sales would eclipse print books by 2015, the opposite seems true. Sales of e-books have gone from sizzle to fizzle.

The Association of American Publishers announced that the first five months of 2015 saw a 10% drop in e-book sales as compared to 2014. Print books also saw a drop in sales, but only by about 2%.

During the meteoric rise of the e-book that began around 2008 with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle, traditional book publishers scrambled to revise their practices to keep competitive with digital publishers. Many feared that the collapse of Borders was the death knoll for the beloved print book.

However, as technology marched on, sales of dedicated e-readers dropped as consumers began turning to tablets and other mobile devices. E-book subscription services struggled to find enough subscribers, and some of these services have closed. Inspired by this downward trend in e-book sales, large publishers like Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Hachette are investing in infrastructure and distribution to be able to rapidly deliver print books to consumers.

Perhaps the biggest winner is the independent book seller industry, which is healthier than it has been in some time. The American Booksellers Association reports an increase in member stores and locations over the last five years. With faster delivery, book sellers can place smaller initial orders, knowing that if they sell they can get more copies almost immediately.

Image credit: NY Times
Image credit: NY Times

All signs indicate that many readers are returning to print books, or perhaps enjoying a mix of both digital and print books. Some surveys indicate that even young readers, who grew up in the digital age seem to prefer reading a book on paper.

It is too early to declare the death of electronic books. The data about e-book sales is only from publishers and does not include the multitude of self-published e-books which often sell for less than a dollar each.

Amazon is still seeing a rise in sales of electronic books. Their flat-fee, unlimited e-book reading subscription service includes millions of titles, and a substantial proportion of these are self-published. Also, apps for reading e-books on mobile phones and tablets are making headway. It seems like readers will be able to choose their preference of e-book or print for a long time to come.

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