EBooks – Settling or Savaging?

April 27, 2017

Today’s PW Daily had a link to a Guardian article titled “How eBooks Lost Their Shine: Kindles Now Look Clunky and Unhip,” which presents the case for the idea that, far from bulldozing traditional print books into the dust, ebooks have lost sales in the recent couple of years and are settling into a certain specific use and marketing niche while the book itself as an object has become more appreciated.  One of the interesting points is the preference of teens for print when reading actual books, in part because of digital technology’s tendency to distract the reader with the draw of other digital forms of entertainment and interaction.  This article talks about the UK’s situation, but the New York Times in late 2015 published an article, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead” noting the same phenomena already developing here as well.

There is a rebutting argument, however, taking notice that all of this is focused on sales by publishers as reported to the Association of American Publishers, which these days hardly covers the entire ebook market.  Robert Springer in an article on the site EContent, clearly lays out the opposite case, quoting Smashwords CEO and Founder Mark Coker

Amazon’s virtual stranglehold on ebook sales is another reason that subscription services are struggling. The ecommerce giant controls “something north” of 70% of the ebook market, says Mark Coker, the founder and CEO of Smashwords, a company that helps authors and publishers distribute ebooks. For $9.99 a month, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program allows ebook readers to choose from more than 1 million ebooks.

So, ebooks sales of content by traditional publishers are settling if not outright declining, but “independent” author content sold by Amazon on the cheap represents a large segment of the ebook market, which Coker estimates at already 10-20% of the total book market.  Coker presented a program on this topic last summer at BEA, which I attended.  The Smashwords founder was critical of both traditional publishers (for not adapting effectively to the new situation) and of Amazon for habituating readers to the idea that books should be virtually free, for promoting quantity over quality, and for rigidly exclusive contracts with ebook independent authors (as part of the KDP Select program).

Smashwords incidentally, is the one indie title source that provides ebook content to OverDrive for us to lend. Still, the traditional publishers, while they seem to have succeeded in pulling back some of their own business to print, are the main drivers of our customers’ electronic borrowing, especially in the sharply increasing eaudio market but with respect to ebooks as well.  Sno-Isle’s OverDrive statistics showed over 130,000 checkouts last month, for instance, compared to less than 70,000 in April 2015.  Perhaps would-be buyers of some published ebooks are choosing to borrow them from their libraries instead?

 

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2 Responses to “EBooks – Settling or Savaging?”

  1. David Says:

    Last month, the featured speaker at our Friends meeting gave a bleak picture of the publishing industry from her point of view as an author — tiny advances, very little editing support and zero publicity or marketing. I had to bite my tongue when she sang the praises of Amazon for sticking up for the little guy, but even there, it’s not enough to make a living. To me, it’s like the promise of streaming revenue for musicians — only nickel and dimes trickling in.

  2. Darren Says:

    Interesting – thanks for sharing!


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