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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A new Pew study reveals that Americans’ reading habits are being maintained. What’s more, the percentages reading an ebook vs. a print book have been level as well for the past four years.  While single method only readers favor print over ebooks by 38% to 6%, what’s really interesting is that a solid 28% read in both formats.  A full 26% in this survey have not read a *single book in the past year* and admit it (I figure reading books is an admired activity that one might inflate in self-reporting).  Still, even if the read-a-book figure is high, it’s consistently so, indicating no decline in overall reading.  What I like also about a survey like this is that it’s asking people how many books they read – whether self-published or traditionally published, whether bought at big box retail or borrowed from a library, etc. – not trying to track sales, so there is none of the usual suspicion that a certain market is being missed entirely.

Another note of utter stability is the age breakdown, indicating no necessary change in these preferences in the near future.  The factors in preferring digital seem to be income and education.  From the study:

Relatively few Americans are “digital-only” book readers regardless of their demographic characteristics. However, some demographic groups are slightly more likely than others to do all of their reading in digital format. For instance, 7% of college graduates are digital-only book readers (compared with just 3% of those who have not graduated from high school), as are 8% of those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more (compared with 3% of Americans with incomes of $30,000 or less). Interestingly, young adults are no more likely than older adults to be “digital-only” book readers: 6% of 18- to 29-year-olds read books in digital formats only, compared with 7% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 5% of those 50 and older.

 

This article from Digital Shift covers the views and reactions of several key library personnel and advocates to the new subscription services I mentioned yesterday. It sounds like their offerings are heavy on self-published and public domain works, at least for now.

Here’s a quote:

As surveys by LJ and others has shown, regular library users tend to read many more books each year than the average U.S. consumer. They borrow more, buy more, and use e-readers more frequently. For now, [Massachusetts Library System Small Libraries Advisor] Chadwick said she thinks that these new subscription services will likely fold into many users’ reading habits without an adverse effect on libraries.

 

I hope that’s right.

 

 

It seems the latest development in the evolution of the eBook market is the subscription service – basically offering subscribers a large selection (hundreds of thousands of titles) for a monthly fee, with unlimited reading time for whatever title you can find.  Three players have jumped on the scene: Scribd, Oyster, and (naturally) Kindle Unlimited.  Limiting factors for these new services include lack of publisher cooperation and the fact that they tend not to get the real frontlist.  That is understandable, as the services’ low cost model prevent them from compensating publishers and authors sufficiently to carry the hottest new titles. Read here for more information.

I stumbled across this study by the Pew Research Center while searching for information on format transition for the Collection Budget Team.  I really thought these results were interesting enough to share with a wider group.  Among the findings:

Half of Americans now own either a tablet or an e-reader

A third say they read an ebook in the last year, compared to 78% who read a book in any format including audiobook

In the 2014 results, 32% read a book on a cell phone, 55% on a tablet, and 57% on an e-reader

87% of ebook readers also read a print book, and 29% also listened to an audiobook

A majority of print readers still read only in that format, while 35% also read an ebook.

I don’t know if this indicates long term whether ereading will largely replace print reading someday or settle into a permanent niche at a certain level.  What does seem clear is that both methods of reading will co-exist with significant overlap for quite some time.

 

 

Thomas Jefferson famously declared he couldn’t live without books, but while he was enthusiastic about classical languages and scientific information, you might be suprised to know that he had this to say about reading novels:

A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life. This mass of trash, however, is not without some distinction; some few modeling their narratives, although fictitious, on the incidents of real life, have been able to make them interesting and useful vehicles of a sound morality… For a like reason, too, much poetry should not be indulged. Some is useful for forming style and taste. Pope, Dryden, Thompson, Shakespeare, and of the French, Moliere, Racine, the Corneilles, may be read with pleasure and improvement.—Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Edition (1903) 15:166. Web 17 June 2013.

There are probably many today who would agree that fiction is fluff – a private and personal indulgence with no practical utlity beyond maintaining the basic reading skill itself, perhaps. There is accumulating evidence, however, that this view is wrong.  For several years there has been intriguing research into the ability of fiction to increase empathy in readers. What suprised me, however, is a recent story on Salon.com that fiction reading has been linked in a University of Toronto study to improved thinking skills as well:

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

In a recent session I attended on “Why Fiction Is Dangerous,” Neil Gaiman talked about participating in an international science fiction and fantasy convention in China in 2007. Gaiman asked hosting officials why the 180 degree change in attitude toward these genres, which had been suppressed as potentially subversive.  He was told China was now encouraging reading science fiction and fantasy because they believed it would lead to greater innovation and inventiveness after surveying the top talent at American companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple and discovering many had grown up reading those genres. 

So even the most pragmatic world powers focused like laser beams on economic development see serious value in reading speculative fiction.  It clearly goes way beyond idle entertainment.

Good news for Libraries! 

from Barrington Public Library, Isinglass Teen Read Award

Pew Internet & American Life Project released a study today: Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits.  The report examined how readers between the ages of 16 and 29 encounter and consume books in different formats:

More than eight in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library. At the youngest end of the spectrum, high schoolers in their late teens (ages 16-17) and college-aged young adults (ages 18-24) are especially likely to have read a book or used the library in the past 12 months. And although their library usage patterns may often be influenced by the requirements of school assignments, their interest in the possibilities of mobile technology may also point the way toward opportunities of further engagement with libraries later in life.

Among the main findings:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year.Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.
  • Among Americans who read e-books, those under age 30 are more likely to read their e-books on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%)than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23%) or tablet (16%).
  • Overall, 47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers.E-content readers under age 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more these days due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%).
  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.
  • Many of these young readers do not know they can borrow an e-book from a library, and a majority of them express the wish they could do so on pre-loaded e-readers. Some 10% of the e-book readers in this group have borrowed an e-book from a library and, among those who have not borrowed an e-book, 52% said they were unaware they could do so. Some 58% of those under age 30 who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service.

Interesting information!

via Shelf Awareness

posting by Lorraine