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Why Are Publishers Less Optimistic About eBooks’ Future Now Than Last Year?

Why Are Publishers Less Optimistic About eBooks’ Future Now Than Last Year?

By Patricia de Hemricourt

It seems to all come down to the growing number of functions provided by ereaders and tablets. But first, let’s have a look at the numbers:

In late 2011, book publishers representing 74% of U.S. publishing revenues were ask the same questions as in 2010 in a survey covering a wide range of topics concerning digital books.

Last year wisdom was that the proliferation of new technology likely means more people will read more books in the immediate future. This wisdom has aged during the last 12 months as can be seen by Forrester’s survey end of 2011.

When asked whether more people will read books than did before, thanks to digital, 47% said yes, down from 66% a year ago. When asked if people will read more books than before, thanks to digital, 60% said yes, down from 66% last year. (Full results from the survey will be presented by Forrester analyst James McQuivey at the upcoming Digital Book World Conference and Expo in New York City.)

This seems counterintuitive in view of the continued growth of sales of e-readers and tablet computer sales. So what hides behind the dwindling optimism, or growing pessimism of publishers?

The initial optimism stemmed from the logic according to which people able to carry a library in their pockets would be more likely to read more books as they would always have a book at hand. When David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, an Internet research lab, confirms that people have become accustomed to filling in smaller and smaller breaks in their day with reading on portable devices, optimism should shoot up.

However, reading has always been an occupation best suited to a quiet environment with few distractions. Or, in the modern world, to a quiet screen with few distractions…This quiet screen that characterized ereaders until a few months ago, is now vanishing. The colors, ability to download movies, clips, the interruptions through various social networks or email services, connection to a phone and the possible invasion of ebooks by advertisements in the future are creating a lot of competition to plain old books and generating an increasing amount of background “noise” audio or visual, that might imperil the future of reading ebooks in peace.

Adding to this technological noise is the shortening attention span of the younger generations raised to switch from one “page” to another on the net, hopping from Facebook to YouTube, and creating endless social connection with people they will never meet but are comfortable exchanging opinions with or playing arcane games with.

With the rise to prominence of the Internet, long-form non-fiction has been deposed as the dominant form of spreading ideas, argues Weinberger, which is a long-term trend that could mean people will need to read fewer books in the future to engage with important ideas.

“Reading the Web does not lead you along a logical path, it leads you along a path of interest,” said Weinberger, who is also the author of a new book about the new nature of knowledge, Too Big to Know. “I’m not saying that the Web chases long-form out, but if you write long-form now and it goes unnoticed on the Web, then, very likely, it has failed. The Web is where knowledge is developed and where it lives.”

Furthermore, book publishing companies have long banked on the adage “The older people get, the more books they read.” Some associate the truth behind this adage to the increased solitude of older people as they retire, see fewer people at work and get less mobile and social. The ever renewing connection on the Net, that bypass traditional geographical barrier and ignores age, might put an end to this evolution of social life as the new generation grow more used to lead a large portion of their social interactions online.

So, this might spell a gloomy long time future for books the way we know them, but people always appreciated getting carried away by a story that takes many hours to go through, and storytelling will always find a way to seep in new technologies.

Maybe storytelling will take a new form and books the way know them will be seen in the 3rd millennium as a folkloric remnant of the past, such as storytellers or troubadours are today, but story telling will survive.

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7 Responses to "Why Are Publishers Less Optimistic About eBooks’ Future Now Than Last Year?"

  1. […] a Book is an Adventure addresses e-publishing options available to writers. Here’s an interesting article on why publishers are less optimistic about eBooks’ future now than last year. Even so […]

  2. Michael Shandrick says:

    It should not come as a surprise that the metrics don’t add up to all the hype about e-books. While there may be less than spectacular ebook sales as compared to the sales of ereaders and other mobile technology, the market is actually playing out true to form. The initial growth of ebooks has pretty much conformed to early adopters. From now on the growth curve will flatten as a result of the later adopters,who comprise the vast majority of the market (about 80 percent), though they will be more demanding in terms of comparative shopping, ease of use, etc. Also, I am betting that once the market sees a more fluid adoption of older titles and back list titles, then a more mature market will appear. At least that’s what I’m counting on as a biography I co-wrote will be introduced in spring 2013, which will open a new broader market I never had as a traditional publication.

  3. Ken E Baker says:

    Great article – thanks for the interesting read. You are right – our attention spans are not what they used to be. But at the same time, and I am speaking from my own experience, there are moments in my day when I want quick and easy reading – scrolling through new articles online etc, and there are those moments in my day when I want to completely tune out and ignore everything else. That is why my Kindle does not have ads on it 🙂 And I’ll chuck it away if that ever happens :):)

  4. Interesting post! I spend much more time reading than ever before now that I have a smartphone and e-reader. Waiting in lines, for he subway, wherever…it’s an opportunity to read. I’ll always love printed books, but space constraints limit my ability to collect too many. My serious research is always via printed books, but I have tons of great ebooks. As noted by several other comments, I think pricing is a major factor. I balked at the notion of paying $10 more for the ebook version of the bundled 4-volume Game of Thrones series: $19 printed, $29 for the ebook version?! The recent announcement that JK Rowling’s new novel will be $20 for the ebook is another example–they are priced way too high. I’ve worked in a publishing office for nearly 15 years, and we are doing tons of research about ebooks and pricing. I also publish my own work as ebooks, so I see this from several angles. I understand wanting to make a profit, but most people I know who have e-readers are increasingly disenchanted because pricing is a deterrent, not because of the distractions of social networks on the same devices. That said, though, I think the market will even out…it has to remain competitive to survive!

  5. I am one of those who still prefer hard books over ebooks. I love the feel and smell of them, turning and feeling the pages in my hands. I do have 3 kindles and an Ipad also. Don’t even go there.:-) I know even ebooks cost money to produce; but I think what steers some from ebooks is the price of some of them. I will not pay 6-8 dollars for an ebook. Some of the ebooks cost as much as the hard or paperback book. Why would I pay that much when I can get excellent books for 0.99 or up to 2.99 or so. I will either wait for an authors book to come down in ebook price or I will pass it up. If it is one I have to have, I will get the paper version. I think with the economy the way it is, the price will have a big effect on the sales.

  6. richard hoy says:

    What’s being missed is that Kindle users (by far the largest segment) are the power buyers of the book buying public. You don’t buy a Kindle, at least the basic one, for any reason other than reading.

    So now publishers have a way to identify their best customers. They have a marketing target to aim for.

    Twitter: @90daysofpromo

  7. Rick G says:

    I wonder if this pessimism extends to all books or perhaps just to THEIR books. All indications seem to point towards Amazon doing to the publishing world what Apple did to the music world…ie establishing themselves as a major player. However, where Apple still has to play nice with the major labels and offer some concessions, Amazon has an ace in their pocket. While there’s plenty of indie music out there, I don’t think anyone can argue its having the same impact / acceptance as indie publishing. I don’t know why, but it seems voracious readers are more willing to experiment with new writers.

    The X-factor I worry about here is information glut. With the rise of KDP Select, there are now more free books than ever. I fear it will lead to mass downloads of books that then never get read and eventually wind up deleted. That could be an issue. However, I haven’t seen any signs that people will stop reading. It’s more a matter of what they’re reading an how they’re reading it.

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