Status Report–the eBook Revolution

The sale and popularity of eBooks continue to rise against the 570-year reign of printed tomes.

I haven’t seen the numbers yet for 2013, but a quick look at sales figures for the past couple of years shows an explosion in sales up to about 2011 (a Reuters article reported that electronic books “more than doubled in popularity in 2011), and a slight slowdown in 2012.

But based on the publishers’ practices, what I learned in 2012 at the Romance Writers of America Conference, and what I see in the office, the lunch room, home, and on outlets like Amazon, I’m willing to bet the pace has picked up again. According to one article (by Tom Corson-Knowles on TCKPublishing.com), reviewing a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report of the Total United States Consumer book market, the 2013 picture should be something like this, in terms of dollars:

eBooks are cheaper than physical books, and particularly in fiction, it’s likely that eBooks have outsold hardcover books (in number of works sold–probably not dollars spent).

The use of eBooks is growing in more than just fiction. School Library Journal’s 4th Annual Survey of eBook Usage in U.S. K-12 Libraries extrapolates an estimated $73 million spent on eBooks in U.S. schools in the 2012-13 school year, and since the prior survey, the percentage of school resource budgets spent on eBooks has nearly doubled, with an expected triple of that budget by 2018.

Yes, there is still something wonderful about a physical book. I’ve cluttered my walls with shelves of them (not to mention certain floors, drawers, and other previously open spaces). I like the feel, the smell, and it’s nice to be able to easily flip back and forth, and to have a visual sense of where you are in the tale. And for reference books, it’s nice to have a tabletop full of open books, comparing pages, sections and illustrations. But sometimes, the inability to do something simple, like word-search or change the font, makes the eBook format more attractive.

Projections vary. I do not foresee a future in which physical books don’t exist (at least not in a future in which people still exist to read them), but eBooks will continue their invasion into the mainstream for quite awhile. In the short term, the Pricewaterhouse Coopers projection for the 2016 U.S. Book Market seems reasonable.

And I would think the trend will continue from there for at least a few more years. More interesting are the changes to the industry these figures imply. eBooks are easier and cheaper to produce and market. Self publishing is consequently easier. Markets have developed, and will continue to develop, to take all of these changes into account, and in the end, the book consumer, and hopefully writers as well, should benefit.

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7 Responses to Status Report–the eBook Revolution

  1. Von Simeon says:

    This is one of those ‘speak of the devil’ posts. Was just sitting here working on a marketing strategy, and wondered, how many physical books should I have? I’m offering my novel as an e-book and paperback. Would it be wise to spend money printing out say, 50 copies of my book, when everywhere I look people are swiping tablets? What would you recommend?
    Thanks for the projections, too. I love graphs. 🙂

    • J. C. Conway says:

      It depends on your readership and your goals. It seems to me that if even half the readers are reading eBooks, that means there’s another half reading physical books. Whether it’s cost effective to reach the physical book readers depends on what it will cost to produce and distribute them, and what the return might be. You could also look at “print on demand” options, which I don’t know a lot about at this point. But if you’re going to do any personal marketing, like book signings, then it can sure be handy to have some to sign.
      But certainly, printing hard copies is considerably more expensive than offering the eBook, and each copy must be printed (i.e., paid for as overhead), whereas eBook costs involve mostly distribution fees and such, once the work is complete.
      (I love graphs too. Something about pictures being worth a certain number of words…)

      • Von Simeon says:

        Thanks J.C. I have been asked to set up a few book readings locally, so it would be smart to have some physical books on hand. I found that my e-book will be done print-on-demand, which just means instead of pre-pressed books, the press is initiatied at the click of paperback option.
        So if I do, say, five book readings, and have five books available to sign and sell, then a preset order of no more than 50 would be frugal. I’m using an independent publisher for my first book, so I’d order through her contracted printer. Wholesale, ideally. 😉
        Lots to think about.

    • J. C. Conway says:

      Lots to think about — and lots to get excited about!

  2. nancyrae4 says:

    I still read physical books, if I can afford them. eBooks are ok and often cheaper. They have opened the market to self-publishing which may or may not be a good thing. On one hand, the sheer number of self-published eBooks available is so huge now that many readers, myself included, are overwhelmed by all the choices. On the other hand, small genres such as SFR may develop their own fan base because of eBooks – which would be fine with me! I haven’t decided if I’ll self-publish my second SFR but it is a possibility.

    • J. C. Conway says:

      It’s never been easier for an author to reach readership directly. But you’re right that it’s still not an easy decision. In fact, the publishing industry is adapting to the new dynamic, and eBook publishers can offer pretty sweet deals to stay relevant to authors on the fence about self-pubbing.
      BTW, I think eBooks have done wonders for the SFR subgenre!

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