Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Digital Doom? Nay!

Today I'll be speaking with conviction.  Consider yourself warned.

Every time I read writer blogs announcing the death of the print book, it kind of makes me want to bust a cap in someone's nether-regions.

The print book is not dead.  It is not even dying.  Bear with me:

As writers are are, necessarily, surrounded by people in the publishing industry.  Particularly online we are drawn to like-minded folks.  We read blogs by agents, editors, writers who work in the publishing industry professionally.  We join writer groups (online or real-life) with other writers.  We network with authors on Twitter and Facebook and yadda, yadda, yadda.  You get the picture.

But these are the very people who are most likely to purchase e-readers, to use them on a daily basis, and to recommend them to friends. 

Sitting in a room full of writers, reading an agent's blog, or chatting with your writer group is a great way to survey a slice of the publishing-population pie.

But your results are not indicative of the actual population.

As writers we live in a publishing bubble and we need to stop thinking our contact with e-readers and e-books reflects the average Joe Citizen.

Our perceptions of market saturation are skewed because we come in contact with a variety of people whose personal and professional interests make them early-adopters of the digital technology.

If you don't believe me, go to a park.  Sit on a plane.  Walk through a library - or a school!  Count the e-readers on the bus in the morning.

There's no doubt e-readers and digital books have a presence.  But there's also no doubt they are in no danger of taking over.

Check out this blog post from Chip MacGregor - Publisher's Marketplace 2009 Top Agent (by sales) - from this year's BEA.  Among other things, he states:

"Amazon just announced that they’re selling 105 e-books for every 100 printed books. So yes, digital titles are outselling printed titles. But… that’s a bit of a tricky fact. Amazon will sell anything you choose to stick into a digital file (your company’s annual report, your seminar files, your class notes), so not every e-book they’re selling is really a “book.”"  (From the Author: I'd also like to add that as an online retailer, Amazon has a much greater digital focus than most bookstores, which is important because of the next quote)


"...A study here revealed only 6% of people who buy a book were satisfied by their online browsing experience… so 94% of readers want another way to view books. Which means the bookstore still matters. Now everybody is trying to figure out how to make money turning bookstores into showrooms."

Need more?  How about our desire to see the digital world the way we want to:

A couple days back I read a story from one writer who'd purchased an e-reader for his elder father for Christmas.  Aforementioned Elderly-Dad recently told Writer-Son how surprised he was to enjoy reading on his e-reader - particularly the functionality which made the font larger and easier to read.

Writer-Son's conclusion?  (Paraphrased): "If the old folks are getting into it, then you know it's taking over."

Um... sorry, but if you purchased the e-reader for him, he isn't actually the consumer.  I have no doubt he'll read more digital books now, but I don't think it logically follows that the elderly about to stage a market takeover.

And that's my point: Writers and those connected to the publishing industry are advocates for this product.  They're buying them, using them, giving them as gifts, etc, etc.  If we only look through the filter of the people around us, we aren't being realistic about these products.

Remember that post where I said I have a background in branding and marketing? My short-but-eye-opening time working with a branding visionary taught me many things... but the single most important fact was this:

Branding / Marketing / Advertising is all about perception.  When it comes to purchasing decisions fact and truth are moot. What matters is what the purchaser believes to be true about the product and their need for it.
So if you want to believe E-Readers are taking over the world, you're going to look at the world that way.  You're going to notice the e-books and e-readers around you because you're hyper-sensitive.  You're going to find room in your budget for a product that to you seems very important.
But there's a massive portion of the population who don't know or care about e-readers or e-books.  Yet they're still buying books.
The print book is not dying.
It is not.
It is not.
It is not.
Your Turn:  Do you believe the print book is dying?  Why?


  1. *This is part 1 of my response. Seems I got a little wordy and the html didn't like it! :-)*

    Hi Aimee,

    That story about the old man and his exceedingly generous and handsome son sounds VERY familiar. ;-) (I kid ... well, only about the 'handsome' part) Any press is good press, right? lol

    Anywho, I really enjoyed reading your take. I do agree that we (writers, book bloggers, agents, etc.) surround ourselves with people who are most likely going to be hip and overly in tune with the eReader thing. After all, we love books and reading, so anything that is having a significant impact on those things are going to get our antennae up.
    Furthermore, it is very easy to skew data, reports, etc. to what best fits our perspectives.

    There are a couple of areas I would like to split hairs with you over, however. In pop's case, he is most definitely the consumer of what matters: the books. He'll be buying the ones he wants to read, not me. The reader is a vehicle, not the product. That's a fundamental change from the paper model, and one that would take my tiny brain years to analyze to any real degree. Like almost all of the people I know personally with eReaders, I don't think he'll be purchasing many more paper books.

    As another anecdotal story, oddly enough I had a conversation with a middle aged woman just this morning while I was getting my car inspection sticker renewed. I was reading my Nook in the waiting area and the conversation went as follows:

    "Is that a Kindle thing-y?" she asked.

    I replied, "It's actually the Barnes & Noble version, but it works the same."

    "Do you like it?" She actually moved over to sit next to me at this point.

    "I've had it for a couple years and love it."

    We then have a ten minute conversation about the cost of eBooks and how to purchase them. Is that cool or what? While I'll point out that she is most definitely not in my typical sphere of book-nerd influence, I don't consider it to be proof of eBooks taking over. I do think it is an indication that the average person is very aware of electronic reading and, at the very least, curious about the experience.

  2. Part 2

    There are, however, some very real indications that paper is an outgoing medium. As I mentioned in my post, Amazon is selling more eBooks than paper now. They are THE largest book retailer in the world, paper or otherwise. That's significant. The major physical book retailers outside of Amazon are in big time financial trouble, as are the paper book publishers. Sure, that could be a sign of the times (who isn't struggling with money these days, right?), but it could also mean that people aren't buying as many new hardcover paper books (the lifeblood of the industry). That coupled with the massive jump in eBook sales over the last year and a half seem to indicate there is more to it than a crap economy. The last bit of change worth noting is that of libraries.

    My brother, a school teacher, called this afternoon to tell me about the iPad his school gave he and the other teachers. My brother is not anything close to an avid reader, btw, but his son is. He was excited because the library he takes my nephew to lends eBooks that he can download on his iPad. Again, this is anecdotal at best, but when massively underfunded public libraries are starting to offer digital content, it seems pretty clear someone--lots of someone, in fact--are voicing their desire to read electronically.

    ALLof that being said (I'm way too longwinded on this stuff!), I think people need to be very careful about assuming that preference for one is equitable to a dislike for the other. I've always loved books, and will always love books. If the only way I can read them is on paper, then by golly paper is aces with me. I also think paper books will be around a long, long time from now. I just think that there is a lot of evidence that they won't be the primary means of sharing the written word in 3-5 years. Which I'm cool with, so as long as folks keep writing and reading.

    Again, I really enjoyed your thoughts.


  3. It Depends. Maybe it's like buying a car. No one likes car dealerships, and a bad experience can turn you off a brand, but eventually, you'll have to hold your nose and go to where the product is.

    If 94% were unhappy with their online purchases because it's not as convenient, easy or entertaining (let's not forget most books are entertainment), Then B&N has a long future ahead of it as a social hub that sells books.

    If, however, 100% of those customers tried online shopping because they were unhappy with the bricks and mortars, then 6% are never coming back. And that's troubling.

  4. Great post as always, Aimee!

    I've made the same point on my blog and in social media. I recently read an article in PW about the Amazon announcement that went on to say that e-books make up less than 10% of total book sales. So if I writer sells 1000 books electronically yet has no print format or distribution channels (bookstores, etc)then they may be missing out on 9000 additional sales.

    The trend may be there, but print has not vanished from the face of the earth. A writer who wants to sell books now and not five years from now must publish and distribute on all fronts. I will be publishing in print and electronically because I want to quit my day job sooner rather than later.

  5. I'm inclined to agree with you, Aimee. As both a writer and a bookseller at a Very Large Bookseller, I'm up to my eyeballs in eReaders! But when we tally up at the end of the day, the number of eReaders we've sold is never more than the number of books we've sold.

  6. Excellent post! Thank you for writing this! I like print books, I just can't get into reading books on a screen. It's good to know the print book isn't dying! :)