Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Death of Traditional Books Hasn't Happened Yet

Good afternoon constant reader.

In a 2012 survey, it was revealed that only 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book.

When Amazon pioneered its Kindle e-reader five years ago, the assumption was that the future of book publishing was going digital. It was predicted that by 2015, conventional books would be a thing of the past.

Five years after the e-book explosion into our culture, the future of traditional books suddenly looks better.
Hardcover books are still in demand.
The growth in e-book sales is slowing noticeably.
Purchases of e-readers are shrinking, as consumers choose multipurpose tablets.
E-books, rather than replacing printed books, may eventually fill a role much like that of audio books—a complement to conventional reading, not a substitute.

How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books?
Results of a Pew Research Center survey released in December showed the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the last year, from 16% to 23%. It also discovered that fully 89% of regular book readers said they had read at least one printed book during the preceding year. 30% reported reading a single e-book in the past year.

The Association of American Publishers reported the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell suddenly during 2012, to about 34%. That's still a flourishing clip, but it is a distinct decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the last four years.

The initial e-book explosion is beginning to look like an aberration.
The early e-reader buyers, a small but enthusiastic following, made the move to e-books rapidly and in a concentrated period of time.
However, more converts may be harder to come by.
A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed just 16% of Americans have purchased an e-book and that 59% say they have "no intention" of buying one.

Past the practical reasons for the decline in e-book sales, something deeper may be happening. We may have mistaken the nature of the electronic book.
Novels are by far the best selling.
These are the most disposable of books. They're read quickly and there is usually no desire to hang onto them after the last page is turned.
We may even be a tad uncomfortable to be seen reading them, which makes anonymous e-versions more appealing. The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey probably wouldn't have happened if e-books didn't exist.
Readers of literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less apt to go digital. They seem to prefer the  tangible delights of what we still call "real books"—the kind you can display on a shelf.

E-books may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more expendable paperback.
That would agree with the discovery that once people start buying e-books, they don't necessarily quit buying traditional books.
According to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical books.

Having survived 500 years of technological turbulence, Gutenberg's invention may defy the digital attack as well. There's something about a crisply printed, snugly bound book that we don't seem eager to let go of.
Thank heaven.

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