Tag Archives: e-books vs. print

Reasons for Declining Ebook Sales: My Update on the Ebook Industry, and Musings on My Participation in it

In 2011, I wrote a blog post titled, “The E-publishing Experiment.” This was at the very beginning of my ebook publishing journey, and at the time the hype over the future of ebooks was high. Several ebook authors had begun to make enough money to be noticed by the publishing industry. Bloggers all over the internet were encouraging new authors to jump on this ebook publishing bandwagon. While everyone held some nostalgia for the printed book, the idea was that the ebook tide, spurred by the Amazon Kindle, would just rise and rise and rise—until almost all versions of the printed book had been swept away.

 

This week, the Observer published an article entitled, “Are E-Books Finally Over? The Publishing Industry Unexpectedly Tilts Back to Print.

 

I’m actually not surprised at a decline in ebooks sales, for several reasons:

The first is that the online hype over ebooks seemed to have died down.

The second is that my personal peak in sales was several years ago (though this is due to a variety of reasons), which supports the reports of a decline in sales.

The third is that every reader with a deep love of books that I talk to expresses their love of the printed version over ebooks. Ebooks are vaulted for their convenience while travelling, but not for the experience the reader has while using them. There are a few exceptions—I’ve heard of at least one pastor who actively promotes the advantages of ebooks. But I don’t know him personally.

The fourth is that I work in a library, and many readers express their frustration with incompatible ebook technologies. For example, in Canada you cannot check out library books on your Kindle. This is besides the technological complications that often come along with reading ebooks. Many, many ebook readers have no tech issues with their ebook reading—but many do, and troubleshooting their ebooks becomes a barrier to their use of their service.

  • Further evidence of ebook decline is that the library used to lend out ereaders as well as ebooks, and this was initially so popular that the waiting list for these devices stretched out for months. Now the library has discontinued this service. This was partially due to the incompatible technologies most ereaders have—making it hard for multiple library patrons to use the same device—but it was also due to a reduced level of interest. A reduced level of interest could indicate that all the patrons bought their own device instead of getting it from the library, but I have not observed this to be the case.

The fifth is that ebook prices are usually not much cheaper than printed books. On one hand, this seems fair, since the author’s words have just as much value whether they are printed or displayed on a screen. But on the other hand, from a customer’s perspective—if the experience of reading an ebook is so greatly inferior to the reading the printed version, a customer can’t help but wish the price would reflect this fact. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole thriving network of websites ripping off ebook authors by publishing their work for free—and I assume a good number of readers flock to sites like these instead of paying $20 for words on the screen. Just a reality of life.

The sixth is that, sadly, interest in reading overall seems to be declining (see this New Yorker article for more information). This is backed up by what I know of library stats. While libraries remain immensely popular for other reasons, their rates of actual books or ebook checkouts as a whole are declining slightly every year.

 

I always maintained that the printed book would never die. I wanted the ebook to succeed to a certain extent, since I’d published several short stories in the ebook market, but even in 2012 I asserted that the worst case scenario was that printed books would be reduced to limited runs of high quality volumes. Physical book enthusiasts will always exist. I’m very glad that the market for printed books is still so healthy, and even gladder that independent bookstores appear to be doing well.

 

As for my prediction for the future—I believe the ebook industry will survive. In nonfiction, especially in academic areas, ebooks are incredibly useful since they are searchable. In fiction, ebooks are portable—many young people read ebooks on their phone. However, the fact that a reading culture is more easily constructed around physical books, especially when nurtured in the environment of an independent bookstore, leads me to put more emphasis on the physical book once again.

 

As I mentioned before, my sister and I collaborated on a physical, printed booklet this year, and I was incredibly pleased with how this was received. I hope, in the future, to do more with beautiful, physical, printed items. My work in electronic format will remain available, but stay tuned for more information on physical forms to come! And thank you to everyone for all your support during my many years of my publishing journey. I think we’ve all learned a lot!

 

Here’s a few posts I’ve published on ebooks, if you’re curious—I find it kind of fascinating to see my reflections on the ebook industry as it developed:

The E-Publishing Experiement (2011)

Will Ebooks Kill the Printed Book? (2012)

Let’s Call the Ebook Something Else—It’s not Really a Book, Anyway (2013)

Ebooks Have Not Killed the Printed Book (Yet) (2014)

Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared—They’re Doing Fine, Actually (2014)

 

To end off with, I’m going to post an old infographic that a commenter posted on my blog in 2012—it’s fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the ebook industry then and now.

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What I Learned at my First Local Author Book Festival

When I was a teenager, I ran into a relatively well-known Edmonton author at the Fringe Festival. I recognized him immediately, because his picture was always in the Edmonton Journal newspaper. I was completely unknown to him, but for whatever reason I was compelled to duck and hide, my face burning with embarrassment. It was like I thought he could see right through me, see I wanted to be a writer too, and would laugh at me.

Teenage emotions aren’t always rational, are they? I don’t know why I was afraid a “real” writer wouldn’t take an aspiring writer seriously. But at the time, I was.

Have I grown out of this? Well, as I’ve gotten older I’ve also gotten much braver about going to writing events, and actually talking to the other writers that attend. I’ve gotten braver about asking questions when events are open to audience questions. And to be sure, some of my questions have been shot down by writers as “dumb” questions. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt less and less bad that I’m eager to learn. I’m more excited to share writing experiences with fellow writers. And I’m no longer so afraid other will judge me about my goal of becoming a highly competent and engaging writer.

Anyway, all of this is just to say that I displayed my work at the Capital City Press Book Festival this past weekend, and it was an amazing experience. Facing other local writers was not as terrifying as I’d imagined long, long ago. This was the first time ever I’ve presented myself as a writer to the public in person (ie: not online, or by submitting to events that I wasn’t able to attend in person). It was eye-opening to study what kinds of pitches or descriptions of my work worked on the public that browsed my table, and which were less effective. It was eye-opening to see the tactics of my fellow local authors who were also at the festival. And it was incredibly helpful to meet these other authors and publishers and commiserate about the difficulty of getting noticed in a crowded marketplace.

I’d say first of all I was grateful the product I was displaying was highly visual, with my printed words capably illustrated by Paulina Van Vliet. In a crowded space, it’s hard to demonstrate your work with printed words alone. Now, there’s other ways of capturing the public’s interest with visuals – having a captivating cover on your book, for example. Or lining up multiple copies of your book so the repeated visual of your cover is hard to miss. Or, as my neighbouring author did, bring additional visuals that illustrate your printed work (his work was based on a real-life event, so it was easier to illustrate with photographs in this way). But overall, this event increased my appreciation of the power of visuals for drawing interest.

Still, it was a challenge for all of the local authors there to stir up interest in a public that was mainly interested in browsing our work. For me, I found the most success with customers who had a personal connection either to the subject of my work (Edmonton), or to supporting me as a writer in general. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to appeal to others based on their personal connection, especially at first. Authors tend to be successful in general because their work connects with others’ experience. And if you correctly define the communities your work appeals most to, you can focus your efforts on displaying your work to those people. However, it is tricky if you hope your work will have broad appeal. If you find yourself selling exclusively to friends and family, it can be tricky to figure out how to expand beyond that. Events like book festivals might be a useful way to gauge the appeal of your work to the general public, and it did teach me a lot about what piqued interest in people.

So those were two observations I gained from doing a public event: how to use visuals to help sell, and how to use these events to test the broader appeal of your work. It also really brought home the benefit of having some of my work in print—the work I displayed was the first actual physical printing of my writing I’ve made.

And lastly, a benefit of these events is just the people in the writing community you meet. I was so excited to see and meet so many local authors and publishers. I’ll mention a few that stick out in my memory, even though I am afraid there may be some great local authors that I fail to mention.

 

Michael Hingston of Hingston & Olsen Publishing, who was displaying the new “Ghost Box” short story collection. Now, I must admit I can’t handle reading scary stories (even though I don’t believe in ghosts!), so I can’t vouch for the stories—but the quality of the design impressed me. After printing my work with my sister, who is a designer, I learned a lot about the challenges in production of physical items. This short story collection came in a beautifully proportioned box that clicked shut with a magnetic closing, and the individual stories were stapled with brass staples that coordinated with the design of the booklet covers. The attention to detail in the design impressed me. Personally, I still love print very, very much, and I’m excited to see new ways of presenting print items.

Katherine Koller, who was displaying Art Lessons— a book I recognized as a result of my job working in the library (there were several books there I recognized from my work, and it’s a bit of a thrill to see the “real” people behind the familiar covers). This is a book about growing up as a creative child—something I agree is a useful topic to explore, because I’m sure my parents could’ve used a bit of advice! They were probably surprised to discover they had a writer and an artist on their hands.

Matt Bowes, general manager of NeWest Press, who talked up one of the press’s upcoming fantasy novels to me—a novel set in Edmonton, where all of the crazy development ideas people have dreamed up over the years were actually built. You know, like a gondola over the river valley, or the freezeway ice-skating lane going right through downtown. This sounds like an exciting premise for a novel, especially a fantasy novel. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for when this is released.

My neighbouring author, Don Levers, who wrote a fictional novel based on a real heist. I love quirky stories from history, so this was a great author to have on one side of me.

And on my other side was my fellow author that I shared my table with, Gerda Vandenhaak, who was displaying her personal memoir growing up in Word War 2, immigrating to Canada, and other struggles in her life and with her Christian faith. We share similar Dutch backgrounds, and both think deeply about the impact of our faith in our lives, so this was an inspiring author to sit beside for the day.

Like I said, there were many more intriguing local authors present – check out #CCPFest on Twitter to see more of them.

 

All in all, I had a great time. I guess I’m growing up, because I never once had the urge to duck, hide my face, and run!

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Join Mark Zuckerberg’s Book Club, Rediscover Why Books Matter

Mark Zuckerberg is starting a book club. A Facebook book club, which seems appropriate, considering he is Mark Zuckerberg.

BUT he said one very insightful thing that should give everyone hope for millenials – we aren’t necessarily shallow, visual-obsessed youngsters with short attention spans. At least, maybe not if we join Mark’s book club.

Here’s what he said:

“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”

The thing is, he is absolutely right. How many times have I gone looking for information on the internet, only to find the absolute basics of a topic repeated over and over again, but no info beyond that? I remember, in my second English course in university, finally resorting to the library to find sources on Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia, and was stunned to find TONS of scholarly articles I could use. My thought at the time was – if it’s not on the internet or scholarly internet databases, it doesn’t really exist, right? But it turns out there’s still a level of detail not available on the internet.

(No, I’ll be honest – I just wanted an excuse not to leave my computer and walk to the library…)

So – go Mark Zuckerberg! If anyone can make our surface-level-knowledge-obsessed culture realize this is a shortcoming, it might be you!

Also, apparently both print and ebook versions of Mark’s first recommendation flew off the shelves – print is surprisingly still popular, one article concludes. Of course it is. Print will never die! Go ebooks (and do check out the ones I wrote ), but yeah, print is here to stay.

Tell me – are you planning to join Mark Zuckerberg’s book club. Or maybe another one? New Year’s reading resolutions, here we come!

  • (I, for one, hope to tackle more ‘classic’ novels this year. I’ll update you on how that goes in a couple months.)

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Ebooks Have Not Killed the Printed Book (Yet)

Two years ago, I asked the question, will ebooks replace the printed book? Will we turn into a world of readers who stare at the glowing screen, instead of burrowing our noses in the musty pages of a hardcover? And I predicted that the good old printed book will never go extinct. Not completely. If vinyl records are still being used by music lovers, why wouldn’t printed books stick around for all of us book lovers? And it looks like, so far, the evidence bears me out.

I obviously have a vested interest in whether ebooks are read by anyone – I’ve published several short stories in this format. But, as a reader, I will never lose my fondness for actual pages. And recently Time magazine reported that printed books are not dying, despite all dire predictions. And, as a bonus to me, ebook sales are still increasing alongside. So the conclusion basically is–ebooks are a great, portable complement to printed books. People don’t feel like they have to choose only one or the other. And really, that’s great. There’s no reason this has to be an either-or situation. It just makes a good story to declare this an all-out war.

Of course, this study is just a snapshot of how things are right now. Everything and anything could change in the future. People might start exclusively buying ebooks. Or ebooks might just turn out to be a fad after all. But at the moment, it looks like both the printed book and the ebooks have staying power.

What about you–do you find you read both ebooks and printed books, or only one or the other?

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Let’s Call the Ebook Something Else – It’s Not Really a Book, Anyway

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle Touch, by IntelFreePress (CC BY 2.0)

“We need a new word for ‘e-book,’” Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich declare in Slate – basically arguing that process of reading things electronically is so fundamentally different from reading the printed word that they shouldn’t be compared.

Well, they do have a point. When I read stuff online, I frequently fall down a rabbit hole in a way I never do when reading a book or magazine. I follow link after link, and discover I’ve learned a truckload of information on, say, Les Miserables, when I did not intend to do so when I sat down at that computer. But it was just so interesting. And, Finn and Eschrich argue, ‘e-books’ have the potential to tap into the fundamentally different world of electronic reading, by experimenting with crowdsourcing, embedding videos, and faster publication. And this ‘reading experience’ should be known by another word than ‘book.’

Yes, a book is different than electronic reading in my experience too. When I turn back to print, I have to consciously shut off my ADD tendencies learned from online reading and link-skimming, and commit. Frequently, I force myself to finish books just so I don’t succumb to a short-attention span completely. And, the amazing thing is, once I shut off the ‘skim-reading’ part of my mind, I can suddenly fall into a deeper reading experience than I ever do with online/electronic reading.

 To be clear, I love BOTH types of reading – the exhilaration of link-skimming and information overload, and the deeper experience of committing to a book. But I mean to underline here that I agree the two experiences are very different – and that currently e-books exist in a funny kind of limbo between the two types of reading. And that the world of e-books could be broadened in a way that makes them bigger than their current existence as electronic copies of printed books (though whether this will happen is a different story). But if this does happen, a new name for e-books could help people understand how e-books are different than books, and take advantage of the fact they are electronic.

 However, I have a couple things to say about Finn and Eschrich’s choice of a replacement word for ‘e-book.’ They want to call it a codeX. First, what I like about the word, and then what I don’t.

 I like the roots of the word, in ‘codex.’ I love history, so a term with a long history behind it, and a reason for using it, makes me feel warm and cozy instead. (I am just naturally drawn to stuff with a history, that’s just the way I am. Anything brand-new makes me feel empty and sterile).

 Now, for the bad – I really, really hate the CamelCase. CamelCase is random, capitalized letters in the middle of a word. In many cases, especially in things like URLs, using CamelCase does make things easier to read and remember (for example, HarmaMaeSmit.com instead of harmamamesmit.com). But in this case, it looks like the X is random, and it would be pronounced the same way no matter which letter is capitalized.

 Secondly, ‘X’ is pretty much shorthand for making things sound science-y, modern and technology – ‘X-rays,’ ‘Xanax,’ and ‘Xerox.’ (both ‘x’ and ‘z’ are prone to this – see the number of drug names with those letters in it). This runs the danger of making the word look out-of-date when the technology is no longer brand-new – see ‘X-ray’ and ‘Xerox,’ above –and I can definitely see the word codeX falling into this. For example, in the nineties’, it was cool to put ‘e’ in front of everything technological, and then it was cool to put ‘i’ in front when the iPod came out, and now brands who did these look like they just jumped on a bandwagon.

 To follow up on that point – we don’t need to make books sound cutting-edge to make people want to read them, and many people who read lots don’t care about being cutting edge. I’d be okay with just calling it a ‘codex,’ though I can see people might be afraid it sounds too academic. After all, ‘e-book’ sounds familiar. It sounds like something you already have experience with.

Basically – if we have to a a new word for ‘e-book,’ let’s make sure it doesn’t sound gimmicky, shall we? 

But don’t worry, I haven’t seen any signs that vast hordes of readers are rallying behind this new name for e-books, which means the name probably won’t change any time in the near future. But I do think the idea of emphasizing how different e-reading is from print reading is an interesting one. In a world where Apple is patenting a way for authors to electronically authorize e-books, and most electronic publishers are slavishly trying to copy every aspect of a print book, the idea of trying to find a new path for electronic publishing that takes advantage of the very ‘electronic-nish’ of it could change publishing forever.

It’s just that no one’s quite figured out how to do it yet.

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Remembering E-book Details – Harder Than With Print

I realized I should’ve mentioned earlier that no post would be going up yesterday, since it was Good Friday and a holiday (and wow, I was glad to have a holiday after writing so many history papers!) Instead, I’m putting up a short post today. I came across this article on Time.com the other day, discussing how our minds just don’t absorb the details of what we read as well when we read e-books, as when we read the same book in print. And I have to agree, to some extent.

I don’t read too many e-books, but I read (far too many) articles online, and though I usually remember the main idea of the article, I don’t do as well on the details. Sometimes I read the same thing twice before realizing I’ve actually read it a few months before. It’s enough to make me wonder if I actually read to get information, or if this is just a symptom of impending information addiction – an odd condition where the pleasure of finding out something new is, well, incredibly addicting. (On the other hand, I also apply what I read in numerous ways, including on this blog, so hopefully I don’t skate too close to the edge of surfing the ‘net just for the high it gives me. 🙂 )

I also sometimes am assigned textbooks as e-books, and it is sometimes incredibly difficult to absorb the information from them . On the other hand, I love the fact I save money on them, and will always choose textbook available as a free e-book from the library over being gouged on the print version. Another upside is being able to easily search the text for a keyword, or a half-remembered argument you were sure the author made somewhere in the book, rather than endlessly skimming print pages in a fruitless search for a certain quotation.

The argument in the Time article is that people remember things better in the print version by landmarking where they found information, such as remembering it was at the bottom of a page near an end of a chapter, and this was incredibly interesting to me. Sometimes, when writing an exam, I can see exactly where the information I need to know was in my textbook (though it has happened that I still have no idea what the answer is). If only my memory worked like a camera!

And, lastly, this leads to interesting implications for writers of e-books. Maybe intense fantasy tomes with hundreds and hundreds of names, and an incredibly complex invented society, are not the best choices when writing an e-book. Maybe readers are actually looking for a simple story, “light reading,” that’s a pleasant distraction while riding the bus. I wonder if, in the future, authors will write differently if they intend their work to be an e-book, or if they intend it to be released as a print version. It depends how well this e-book craze takes hold. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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Will Ebooks Kill the Printed Book?

Library

All those books! {{PD-US}}

A lot of hardcore readers were doubtful when the Kindle came out, but there’s no denying sales of ebooks have skyrocketed these past few years. More and more people own e-readers, and several authors are making more money self-publishing electronically than they could ever make with a traditional publisher. Does this spell death for the printed book? The very idea has ardent readers up in arms. Reading electronically is not the same. A Kindle can never replace the feeling of holding a book in your hand. What if you want to doodle in the margins?

When I first heard about Amazon Kindle, I was horrified. I love books. I love the musty smell of libraries, even if it means I’m supposed to be studying. I love how different books all smell different, and if I had my way I would have a double-storey library in my house with little ladders going to all the different levels. How could an electronic device ever replicate that experience?

Bloggers have a field day, arguing for one side or the other – but defenders of printed books tend to be more common. For example, here’s one post that argues ebooks bore him, because all the books end up looking the same on an e-reader. Author Jonathan Franzen argues ebooks aren’t permanent enough. Another blog lists advantages and disadvantages and declares print books will never go extinct.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize there is a possibility ebook will win out.

After all, I only love books because I know books. What if you grew up reading all your books on the iPad or whatever your parents bought for you? Then there’s no physical reality of books to miss. If kids are far more comfortable in a digital world, which more and more they are, then an electronic book will be the thing that makes the most sense to them. Think about the advantages of CDs and records – those little liner notes that came with the album, all the artwork that indicates what the album is like, the experience of listening to an album as a cohesive whole. CDs are still considered to have superior sound quality, and everyone knows the crackle and pop of records lends a warmth to the music you just can’t get any other way. Yet none of that prevented people from switching wholesale to MP3s, iPods and the rest of it. However nostalgic people might feel for that stuff, iPods are just too practical to give up.

And if ebooks are convenient, cheap (cheap is important, because no one wants to pay for an ebooks that’s only a couple dollars less than the printed version), and integrated with our cellphones or something, they could easily become the dominant mode for reading.

But I still think the printed book will never die. Not just out of nostalgia, even though I will always love the ‘book experience.’ But because there will always be someone or other who just finds print more convenient, or doesn’t own an e-reader, or loves real books too much. Going back to the CD and record example, you can still buy both of those technologies. Bands even release new music on records, from time to time. So no matter how obsolete printed books become, there will always be a niche market for them. And, after all, with print-on-demand and other new publishing technologies, you can always set up a book to be printed on the off-chance someone comes along who would prefer to read it that way.

Worst case scenario: You cannot buy printed books except from specialty publishers who produce high-quality hardcover books for library enthusiasts to purchase. They’d be more expensive, of course, and there wouldn’t be much point in paperbacks if you can pick up a cheap electronic version for a dollar or something. But they would exist, because enough people love books.

But I don’t truly think it’ll be that bad. It’s more likely both print and ebooks will co-exist side-by-side, and people will buy whatever version they want. They may even test out multiple ebooks, before deciding which ones to purchase in the printed version. And while publishers and bookstores will move more and more towards printing-on-demand – a move I would support, since it’s ridiculous to print thousands of copies of something and then trash them all when they don’t sell – they would still be printing things.

And that’s a world that most of us book-lovers could live in.

 

What are your predictions for the future of books?

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