If you’re a writer, an avid reader, or both, there’s probably one big question on your mind in particular: are print books going to stick around or are eBooks going to replace them?
What’s a bookshelf going to look like in the next few years?
Well, the data is in and the answers may surprise you:
eBooks aren’t going to replace print books
People read eBooks, but they don’t read a ton of eBooks.
The Pew Research Center recently released data that showed that 23% of Americans had read an eBook in the past year.
But, as The Wall Street Journal notes, people are still reading print books at a pretty healthy rate, too.
Let’s see what Americans had to say about their reading habits in the past year:
- 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one print book (Pew)
- 30% said they had read an eBook (Pew)
- 16% of Americans have bought an eBook (Bower)
- 59% of Americans don’t even want to buy an eBook (Bower)
In effect, we’re seeing eBooks and print books achieve a healthy balance as the novelty of reading a book on a screen wears off.
That’s even more apparent when you consider that the sales of eReaders like Kindles and Nooks dropped by a dramatic 36% in 2012.
What are eBooks?
The Wall Street Journal goes on to speculate that eBooks have more or less embodied “disposable” fiction, a la Fifty Shades of Grey:
“Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.”
That trend is obvious if you skim the titles of Amazon’s best seller list for Kindle eBooks. Genre fiction, like thrillers and romance, make up the vast majority of these titles.
WSJ even goes so far as to say that the Fifty Shades phenomenon wouldn’t have been possible without the relative secrecy readers have when enjoying eBooks.
That’s true, too – for the past few years, eBooks have fueled a big spike in the sales of romance novels.
Okay, so the future of books isn’t as clear-cut as we thought it would be… or is it?
In 2012, print book sales fell by 9%.
As a commenter in that article points out, of course, Hurricane Sandy could have dramatically impacted bookstores on the East Coast.
But 9% is 9%. And, from 2010 to 2012, print book sales have fallen by nearly 16%.
So, someone, somewhere isn’t reading.
Despite the rosy picture sold by The Wall Street Journal, book sales are suffering and it’s because of eBooks.
While eBooks won’t replace print, they will have an impact on the overall publication process.
In fact, we already see this happening: it’s becoming much harder for mid-list authors to make a living from publishing books the old-fashioned way.
So, they go to eBooks. Meanwhile, blockbuster authors can still generally command good sales via print.
As eBooks and print books give and take from one another, I think there’s going to be one important takeaway:
Yes, I know you’re the exception to the rule.
I know that you’re going to finish your novel and publishers will be shoving agents and editors out of the way for the honor of giving you a six-figure contract.
I know that those thoughts are in no way symptoms of Snooty Artist Syndrome.
But take a breath and think about what this emerging picture of eBooks means: anyone can publish an eBook, but that doesn’t mean that it’s something you shouldn’t do.
As publishers continue to scale back on print books, I think print is going to become the ultimate hallmark of validation. If, by validation, we mean good sales and popular writing.
Publishers won’t take a risk on an unknown author who doesn’t already have an established following and an established platform, because sales are no longer guaranteed and marketing budgets are tight.
That means that, no matter who you are, you need to try to publish something digitally before you try to publish something in print. You need to build up that following until you can convince a publisher to take that risk or circumnavigate the publisher altogether.
In 2013, it’s going to be a battle to not be labeled “disposable fiction.”
How do you stand out tall in a flooded eBook market? How do you convince publishers to take that chance?
1. eBooks are going to become more and more important in terms of building your author platform.
2. Author platform is going to mean a lot of different things in 2013 and beyond: social media presence, website, active blog, eBooks, followers, followers, followers.
3. Publishers will try to monetize both print & eBooks by creating different channels for both, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll do this successfully.
4. It’s up to you to give your work the promotion and admiration that it deserves.
5. Build your platform and keep building it.
First Photo Credit: Incognito Nom De Plume