Is the Ebook Craze Really Over?

Caitlin Muchow ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Copy Edited By: Nicholas DeBlasio ‘16

On September 22, The New York Times posted an article about declining ebook sales that threw both publishers and readers into a collective tizzy, but is e-book publishing declining, or just changing?

This hubbub about the ebbing e-book sales was originally caused by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), whose 1,200 members include the “Big Five”: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillian, and Hachette, reporting that its e-book sales fell by ten percent in the first five months of 2015. According to the 2015 AuthorEarnings, between February 2014 and September 2015, the AAP has seen their collective share of the US e-book market collapse: from forty-five percent of all Kindle books sold, down to thirty-two percent.

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The New York Times reported that this decline came from “some e-book adopters [who] are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices.” This may be true and would certainly be great for independent bookstores, which suffered from the popularity of e-books, and whom The New York Times said were showing “strong signs of resurgence,” as evidenced by the fact that The American Booksellers Association went up from 1,410 members in 1,660 locations to 1,712 members in 2,227 locations in five years. However, it is certainly not time to ring the final bell in the battle of print versus electronic publishing. There are several major problems with the revelation that AAP’s e-book sales are dropping being the biggest piece of evidence for the argument that e-books are losing popularity.

One contributing factor to dropping e-book sales could be the raising price of traditionally published ebooks. Since publishers demanded Amazon to let them set their own e-book prices, many have started charging more, and that has led to fewer people buying e-books when they could buy a paperback for almost the same amount.

Another important factor to consider when looking at the New York Times article is that AAP only accounts for a small portion of all the publishing going on out there. According to AuthorEarnings: “In nearly all media coverage of the AAP’s declining e-book revenue, their sales—the sales of just 1,200 traditional publishers—are being conflated with the overall sales of the entire US ebook market. The substitution is so automatic, that most journalists breathlessly repeating stories about a ‘shrinking US e-book market’ are completely oblivious to the difference.” AuthorEarnings’s market share trend report, which covered e-book sales from February 2014 to September 2015, said that Kindle sales from the AAP’s reporting publishers made up less than forty-five percent of all Kindle books purchased in the US.

Another problem that this report touched on is that traditionally published e-books as a whole made up only fifty-five percent of all Kindle e-books purchased in the US in 2014. The other forty-five percent of Kindle e-books purchases were published by Amazon Imprints, the publishing sector of Amazon, and self-published by Indie authors. Other e-book stores such as the Barnes & Noble Nook store have similar e-book market breakdowns.

According to Fortune, “tech analyst Ben Thompson says in a post on this topic at Stratechery that the overall size of the e-book market appears to be holding more or less steady, growing at perhaps one percent or so per year. So it’s not so much that the market itself is growing or shrinking by large amounts, it’s more that some within that market are winning while others are losing. That’s a very different picture than the one the New York Times story painted.”


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  1. I think the most fascinating aspect of this whole story is not whether the eBook market is growing or shrinking (it’s probably very slowly growing), but who is winning the propaganda battle between indie authors (via Amazon) and traditional publishers. A few years ago, Amazon was definitely winning the propaganda war – back then, journalists were ‘breathlessly repeating’ the trope that ‘eBooks were now outselling paper books’ even though that ‘fact’ only applied to book sales on Amazon. The truth is more prosaic – the eBook market grew quickly on the back of a surge in eReading devices, and now the market is settling down. Lots of people enjoy reading on both – and hopefully there is room for both quality, innovative digital retailers – but also quality, innovative high street booksellers. Then we can all benefit.

  2. I can’t see how the e-book market could collapse. I won’t even *borrow* a paper book these days. There’s just no point because my Kindle is easier to carry than a book (or two if I’m near the end of my current read) and the battery lasts for weeks. I haven’t looked at the research, but I kind of hope it’s better for the environment as well. A lot of people I know have been converted to e-readers 🙂

    If you’re an e-book reader, I can recommend the website of the publisher Canelo, which produces e-books exclusively. The Ghost Shift by John Gapper is gripping.

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