Tag Archives: ebooks

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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Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared–They’re Doing Fine, Actually

National Bookstore, by Ramon FVelasquez. Licensed under Creative Commons.

National Bookstore, by Ramon FVelasquez. Licensed under Creative Commons.

So it was bad news for a while for independent bookstores–you know, those tiny neighbourhood shops crowded with books and run by a dedicated owner or two. Chain bookstores were swallowing up their business left and right. Thousands closed as big-box retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders took over (or Chapters and Indigo bookstores, if you’re from Canada, like me). But, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s these very chains that are now in danger from online retailers like Amazon. While your local independent bookstore (the ones that survived, at least) has managed to hang onto loyal customers and stay afloat.

In fact, Slate magazine recently reported sales at independent bookstores have grown 8 percent a year over the past three years.* Indie bookstores have done particularly well in categories that Amazon has not managed to take over with ebooks, such as hardcover nonfiction. Also, they’re under less pressure to have a high turnover of merchandise, so they have can a bigger selection of old, well-loved classics.

As for me, I publish ebooks on Amazon (and other platforms), but I would never want Amazon to rule the whole book market. I am a reader as well as a writer. I applaud indie bookstores’ tenacity at staying in the game, and catering to specific customers’ needs. Is there anything more comforting than browse rows of dusty classics, after all? And perhaps picking up a book to read you never knew you wanted to read?

In addition, it just makes sense these bookstores would thrive on hardcover books, nonfiction especially. As I’ve argued before, ebooks will never completely replace print. There will always be some works you want to have a hard copy of, and likely a good quality hardcover copy of, as the work has value to you. And illustrated books such as children’s books and cookbooks do not translate as nicely to an ebook format, at least at the moment.

Lastly, I also have this ingrained impression that big-box bookstores are evil–my youth was filled with frantic media stories about how chain bookstores would take over the world. (The movie You’ve Got Mail can’t have helped–the plot concerns a small bookstore owner put out of business by a dastardly big-box store owner… whom she falls in love with, of course). So my inner instinct is to cheer when I hear they’re in trouble. Size is great–until it makes you so inflexible that more nimble competitors can take you down before you realize it! However, to gloat over the currently downtrodden seems a little mean.

What do you think? Do you think indie bookstores are doing better than ever? Where do you shop?

As a final note in support of certain printed books, here is a humorous take by IKEA on the superiority of their print catalogue to the electronic version:

* The stats from the Slate article refer to American bookstores–I’m not sure what the comparable stats for Canada, or elsewhere in the world, would be. Let’s hope they’re comparable.

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Top Couples in Fiction, Breaking the Rules of Novel-Writing, Killing Off the Printed Book – All Discussed Here at Stories and Stuff in 2012!

Goodbye 2012! (English New Year, by Amgalanbaatar, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Goodbye 2012! (English New Year, by Amgalanbaatar, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0))

It’s not quite the new year yet, but let’s get this up before all of the Christmas business  take over:

Top 5 Literary Couples

Here’s a secret – any time you put ‘top five’ or ‘top ten’ in your title you increase the likelihood that people will find and read it. I don’t use this trick often, but maybe I should. All the same, I think a list of the top literary couples in fiction does deserve to be highly rated, so I’m glad this post is at the top. And no, this list does not include Romeo and Juliet, or Edward and Bella from Twilight – debate at your leisure whether I made a mistake in leaving them out.

Breaking the 10 Simple Rules for Writing a Novel

Everyone wants to know the secret for writing the novel everyone will read. Is it actually a matter of following all the rules perfectly and coming up with a bestseller, or is there something more mysterious to the writing process?

Will E-books Kill the Printed Book?

Big news this year – ebook sales are going up! And up and up and up. The internet loved to debate endlessly whether this meant the end of the traditional book publishing industry, and here I joined in on the action.

Those Pesky Phoenicians! – A Thought From Herodotus

Why is this in the Top 10? Herodotus is cool and all, but I’d argue The Iliad beats him out in the list of ancient works of literature. But my obsession over The Iliad did not make the Top 10 posts of this year, while good old Herodotus did. Glad to know the venerable old historian is still respected.

Let’s Just Blame the Plot on Someone’s Sex Drive

Putting ‘sex’ in the title is another way to make your page views go up, as I discovered with this post. When readers discovered I was merely ranting about how mediocre authors use random attraction between characters as a motivation for the whole plot of a novel, without any further development of the characters or their motivations, I’m not sure how many of them stuck around. All the same, this is an annoying issue with romance novels that should be resolved!

Why Some Girls Like Mr. Darcy

Just talk about Mr. Darcy when talking about romance novels, and most readers will have an opinion. But let’s not talk about whether he’s good-looking, or rich, because that’s been gone over SO MANY times before. And critics love to sneer at Jane Austen fans and claim they’re all delusional gold-diggers. No, let’s look at the complexity of the character Jane Austen created (see character depth, in contrast to the lack of character development described in the post above this one), and see why this is a good reason for fans to enjoy reading about him.

Writing Characters of Different Ethnicities

I admitted a struggle I had with my writing, and the post made it into the Top 10.

Real-life Romance: A Monk and a Nun Get Married

A monk and a nun get married – it does sound a bit surprising, doesn’t it. And ‘real-life’ romance? Who on earth could this monk and nun actually be?

Glad to see this post in the Top 10, as a history lover, and a lover of sweet stories of real-life romance.

Talking Down to Readers

J.R.R. Tolkien has been accused of talking down to his readers. Is this true? With the release of The Hobbit movie, this post is just as timely as ever – if anything, The Hobbit talks down to its readers far more than Lord of the Rings!

AND… The Top Viewed Fiction Post of 2012:

Last year I separated this list into non-fiction and fiction posts. Since I didn’t want to make a list completely composed of chapters from Why Polly? I decided to just mention the top fiction post of my blog last on this list. And surprise, surprise, it is not actually a chapter from Why Polly?Not Emma, A Missing Chapter from Jane Austen’s Emma actually beats it out! Shows that the classic established authors win every time. 🙂

Have a Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year! Thanks for reading!

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