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The First Digital Plateau

Cliff road

From all the reports, it appears that digital book adoption has reached a small plateau. Driven in large part by Amazon’s release of the Kindle, digital book adoption grew by huge percentages in 2010, 2011, and 2012. 

  • 2009 – $291 million
  • 2010 – $869 million
  • 2011 – $2.109 bn (15 % of revenue of major publishers was due to ebook sales)
  • 2012 - $3.04 bn
  • 2013 – (coming in June but percentage increase per AAP is around 3.8%)

As you can see, the percentage increase each year has gotten smaller. These numbers do not include self published sales which likely accounted for a several million units and millions of dollars.[1]

The majority of the power buyer (defined as those who buy or acquire at least one book a week) has likely already made the transition from print to digital and some experts believe that digital book adoption will end somewhere around the 40% mark.  Around this blog, many of our readers are digital only or digital primary buyers. Many vocal online authors have high digital to print ratios but the digital to print ratio varies according to genre, demographic, and interest.

Romance is particularly high and within romance, certain subgenres are even higher. Generally speaking contemporary and paranormal romance authors enjoy high digital to print numbers whereas women’s fiction and historicals have higher print to digital numbers. This is not to say that there are authors within those subgenres that outperform the generalities because obviously there are. Other genres like mystery and even science fiction have strong print followings. Nonfiction, Lit Fic, Young Adult and Children’s have higher print numbers and lower (much lower) digital numbers.

Nicholas Carr of Rough Type wrote in August 2013 that ebook adoption seems to be plateauing in other English speaking markets like the UK and Canada. This is likely due to a combination of factors.

  1. Exponential growth is easy to show when you are starting from a low figure. Now that ebooks represent a sizeable portion of the overall book market, it takes larger increases of revenue and per unit sales to represent more than an incremental change. Therefore there are still increases but because of the large size of the ebook market, it seems small.
  2. Carr speaks of the switch from dedicated ereaders to tablets. There are simply more entertainment options battling for a reader’s attention including the binge television watching, casual gaming like Candy Crush or Flappy Bird, and digital movies. Tablet users are not primarily readers but rather multimedia consumers.
  3. There will be no transformative device again like the Kindle that spurs mass adoption.
  4. The power readers have already switched.

Let’s look at the Power Buyer (which is everyone who reads this blog). According to researchers, we buy at least 1 book a week and contribute to 48% of ebook revenue and 60% of ebook units. By all accounts we’ve migrated from print to digital within the years of 2010 to 2013. Over 50% of adults already own a tablet or ereader.

Digital book growth can occur in three instances:

  1. Overall number of readers grow.
  2. Power Buyers buy more and at higher prices.
  3. Non digital readers migrate to digital.

Of the three above scenarios, number three is the most likely. Number two isn’t likely to happen because of the increasing number of lower priced ebooks. 99c books and box sets dominate lists these days. The Power Buyer is already contributing nearly half the revenue of ebooks and there’s nothing to suggest that their overall expenditures will increase (even if the units purchased do).

A fourth way for digital book growth to occur would be the decline of retailer access such as grocery stores, big box stores declining to stock books or drastically reducing space given over to books. The closure of Barnes & Noble would likely result in a migration toward ebooks for some readers, but there would be thousands of casual readers lost entirely (as the market for books contracted after Borders’ bankruptcy). And some would simply buy print books from an online source.

The first two scenarios are not likely to contribute or assist digital book adoption.

Overall reading is not increasing.

Among all American adults, the average (mean) number of books read or listened to in the past year is 12 and the median (midpoint) number is 5–in other words, half of adults read more than 5 books and half read fewer. Neither number is significantly different from previous years.

This may be attributable to a decline in young reading.

Research released today from Common Sense Media shows that not only do reading rates decline as kids get older, but they’ve also dropped off significantly in the past 30 years. In 1984, 8% of 13-year-olds and 9% of 17-year-olds said they “never” or “hardly ever” read for pleasure. In 2014, that number had almost tripled, to 22% and 27%. Girls also tend to read more than boys, as 18% of boys say they read daily, while 30% of girls do.

That leaves the migration of existing readers from print to digital. The question is what will make them move and in what numbers? If digital book adoption doesn’t grow in the US, then perhaps the only source of growth for digital only authors would be foreign markets.  We are definitely in the first digital plateau. Where do you think digital ebook adoption will end up? Do you agree we are in a plateau? What will power digital ebook adoption in those who haven’t switched yet?

1. Amazon announced that one quarter of its sales were from indie publishers. Indie publishers include anyone who uses the KDP platform which includes digital publishers like OmniFic and Entangled and the like as well as individual authors. It should be noted that this is unit sales and not overall revenue.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

48 Comments

  1. library addict
    May 18, 2014 @ 05:27:13

    I read 99% in digital now, though I still buy a few of favorite authors in print as well (in addition to digital). The books I still read in print are backlist which are not available in digital.

    However, no one else in my circle of family and friends who reads does so digitally. My mother is still print only. And most of my friends who I did not meet on-line are print only. A few even trot out the “they only want to read real books” line.

    In addition to the convenience factor and the ease of Calibre, one of the reasons I have become mainly a digital reader was because of the closing of Borders and the fact Target, Wal Mart, etc have cut back so drastically on the number/variety of print books they sell. I can’t even find most of the Harlequin lines to buy any longer. And if I’m going to order on-line, I’d rather have the digital book immediately then wait for the print version. Even if the books goes into my ever-growing TBR pile.

  2. SAO
    May 18, 2014 @ 06:02:32

    I wonder how many print books are gifts. I prefer digital, but my family doesn’t view an e-mail message from Amazon to be much of a gift.

    I find it harder to browse digital books. It doesn’t help that the search engines are stupid. If I search for “Jane Eyre” and it’s not found, it doesn’t mean I want a biography of Jane Mansfield or “A History of Stamp Collecting” by Harry Eyre or “Fluffy Bunny’s ABCs” by Jane Something else. I can opt in, say for Paranormal in Romance, but I can’t opt out, and when I search and have to page down through too many Vampire romances, I give up with finding something new and go back to my limited favorites.

    When I shopped at Bricks and Mortar bookstores, my kids were likely with me and they found books they wanted to buy. Usually, I had to limit them. Now, I buy on-line and my kids aren’t there, looking for books with me. When I visit the digital library, they’re not there, either. What once were family book finding outings have become personal. They don’t read my Kindle, either. They don’t see the books and become intrigued.

    My daughter, who was a voracious reader is now consuming lots of on-line media — game-story hybrids, serial manga, summaries of popular TV shows (we live overseas, so she tends to consume American TV as on-line summaries). She’s reading, but not traditional books.

  3. Laura Vivanco
    May 18, 2014 @ 10:06:42

    the Power Buyer (which is everyone who reads this blog)

    I’m not, because I can’t afford to be, though I do read a lot of books (almost all from the library or second-hand). As long as ereaders and tablets are expensive and there’s DRM on most ebooks, I can’t and won’t shift.

  4. Lostshadows
    May 18, 2014 @ 10:11:44

    My mother is a voracious reader, but she won’t go digital because she views it as “renting books.” Maybe if sellers and publishers can change that perception a few more people would switch.

    I recently started reading digitally, but I can’t see shifting to it as my primary reading mode any time soon. I switched to primarily listening to music digitally shortly after I got an iPod, but no one’s invented a easy way to do that with books, so the transition is less useful to me.

  5. Lostshadows
    May 18, 2014 @ 10:14:23

    And by “that” I meant converting stuff you already own. (I have a lot of books, even if they were all available and well priced, it would still cost a lot for me to go primarily digital.)

  6. Cathy B
    May 18, 2014 @ 10:48:39

    If K-12 schools adopt ebooks for textbooks, that would be a big market to move away from print. And if they also started supplying their media centers with ebook reference books, fiction, etc. it would train a new generation to be more comfortable with ebooks from the beginning.

  7. cleo
    May 18, 2014 @ 10:52:47

    I converted to digital about 2 years ago. Honestly, discovering online blogs and reading reviews of e-first romances is what got me to make the move. I was skeptical but I am a true believer now. My irl reading friends are a mix – I know a couple who got ereaders as gifts but don’t love them or use them much.

    What about audible and other audio ebooks? How are those counted? I know at least one power reader who mostly listens to books.

    I’m a power reader but I haven’t been a power buyer since my husband was laid off last year. I have no idea how the economy effects the book market but it seems like it’d have some effect – for me reading is a necessity but buying books is a luxury I can and have cut back on.

  8. Another Jane
    May 18, 2014 @ 11:56:50

    I moved to ebooks when I got my first Kindle with the Oprah discount. I’ve never looked back and have bought only a handful of physical books since then. Now I mostly read on my iPhone/iPad using the Kindle app and rent ebooks from my local library through Overdrive. Between the library and all the free or cheap ebooks, it has to be an author that I really love to pay full price. My TBR is deep enough (deep like the Grand Canyon) that I can wait until the price drops.

  9. Darlynne
    May 18, 2014 @ 12:03:31

    Declarations of digital levelling off–not from you, Jane, but other publishing sources–seem to carry a whiff of decline and woe and “see, we told you it wouldn’t last.” Such statements seem, to me, to suggest a mindset that believed digital books were never real books, were merely an anomaly and the funeral crepe is ready for hanging.

    Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks traditional publishing might rub their hands in glee at the prospect.

    I buy 100% digital, the public library being my only source for print books. In general, I don’t participate in give-aways where the books offered are print and I no longer haunt UBS. My hands can’t take a lot of strain of and the convenience of digital can’t be overstated.

    A plateau is a normal balance, isn’t it? Between old school practices and new technology, the market finds its own level. Forty percent of any market is substantial. I’ll agree about a plateau, but I’m not singing the dirge.

    I don’t know how to increase new digital readership, although Cathy B’s comment about schools is certainly worth pursuing. For those who already read digitally, getting rid of DRM would help us treat ebooks the same as print, i.e., lending, donating.

  10. Marianne McA
    May 18, 2014 @ 12:34:21

    My dh only bought an ereader this month – I think there are people yet to be reached. (He’s thrilled with it already – and as they’re both registered to my account, Amazon’s algorithms are confuddled, and I get a little jolt of self-worth whenever I glimpse my ‘recommended for you’ list. It’s strangely flattering that my computer believes I now read this stuff.)

    What we haven’t done yet, though we theoretically could, is share ebooks. We don’t overlap hugely in our reading choices, but we’ve always shared print books to a certain extent.
    If, as I suspect, you’re less likely to share ebooks than print books, that would also be reaon that the market would grow – that even if the average person reads no more than before, each ebook they read is an individual purchase for an individual device – unlike print books which may be read by several people.

  11. Connie
    May 18, 2014 @ 12:38:05

    I moved to digital when the first Kindle came out. I am now on my third, or maybe fourth. I am a power reader and am now 100% digital. Most of my family are now digital including my ten yr old grandson. I am happy to report he is a reader and has just plowed through six of the seven Harry Potters. He had the first in hardback but put off reading. Digital makes it easier for him to tote it around. My husband are both appreciative of the larger font!

  12. Erin Burns
    May 18, 2014 @ 13:18:01

    I’ve been 100% digital for several years now. The only paper I read are books I already own but can’t get digital versions of. Even backlist non digital released books I’ve been checking out from OpenLibrary.org. For me, it started when I purchased my first smart phone and realized I could load as many books as I wanted on it so that I didn’t have to cart pounds of books on trips. Now I find I have no patience for people who claim they only read “real” books. That’s fine, they can just continue to complain when their B&M store is late getting the release out, I probably downloaded it the minute it was up and was finished before their store even opened so they could check to see if the book had been stocked.

  13. Julia
    May 18, 2014 @ 14:36:02

    I’m probably 70-30 digital to print these days. I buy all my romance as digital but still buy a lot of literary fiction in hardbound. I like the convenience of being able to download a book in a matter of seconds (though this has definitely increased my impulse buying, probably not a good thing) but I also like having some actual books around. I grew up in a small town without a bookstore so the idea that I can just download pretty much any book whenever I want will always be amazing to me. Interestingly, I bought my 12 year old a Kindle last year because our local Barnes & Noble has slim pickings for kids his age but he still prefers to read print books.

  14. Mari
    May 18, 2014 @ 14:49:29

    I buy about as many books as in previous years (almost all still paper). I have two e-readers (one from DH and one from my dad) but have never been able to truly embrace the technology. I find it extremely difficult to “browse” for new authors. It drives me crazy that I can put in the name of an author and get such varied results – in a B&M store I can find the author I’m looking for almost immediately (although I might get sidetracked by other books on the way), online I’m forced to wade through multiple authors who may (or may NOT) even have close to the same name. There is no way to browse through genres that appeal and ignore the authors that I don’t like. In a B&M store I can see the author (that I don’t like) and keep moving, online I’m at the mercy of whomever decided that this particular author will be perfect for me. With the insistence of marketing directly to my (supposed) taste, there isn’t a way to browse for books with my son online without ending up looking at some fairly racy covers/titles too. Try explaining to your 8 yo why Amazon keeps bringing “Go The F*ck to Sleep” (which is an awesome book, but not something I want to buy HIM) when looking for something fun to read.
    I’m also not all that great at remembering to charge devices. Which isn’t helpful if you aren’t carrying a backup (but what’s the point then?) in your bag/car. AND I really don’t like not owning my copy. Obviously Amazon can choose to pull your purchase from your reader if they so choose – I’d like to see them take my paper copy! I’ve also noticed that e-copies tend to be edited less well – or maybe that’s because of the different formats each book has to be presented in? Although there is no excuse for some of the horrible spelling errors, grammar errors, name errors, and outright missing/moved sections that I have come across.
    Basically I guess I have a variety of reasons why e-readers won’t win my heart. Some of it is difficulty on my end and some of it is difficulty on the seller’s end. Either way, I don’t see that this format has actually finished maturing. Maybe that means the plateau is permanent. I doubt it, but maybe.

  15. J. R. Tomlin
    May 18, 2014 @ 15:22:37

    @Laura Vivanco: There are many, many books out there which are DRM free, certainly the majority of self-published ones. I suppose everyone has their own idea of what constitutes ‘expensive’ but I don’t apply that to the price of a Kindle which can be purchased for under $70.

  16. J. R. Tomlin
    May 18, 2014 @ 15:23:38

    I would say that you seriously underestimate the sales that are excluded by not counting self-published sales. In fact, I am quite certain of it.

  17. Bamaclm
    May 18, 2014 @ 16:41:43

    I’m a total convert to digital and am slowly replacing my paper books because I can no longer read the font comfortably. These days, if it’s not digital, it don’t get bought. ;-)

  18. AJ
    May 18, 2014 @ 20:25:09

    I love to read, but the activity always gave me severe headaches. My mother was always telling me to read less, but I couldn’t bear the thought. Then my dad bought me a kindle for my birthday one year. I tried out a few digital books and discovered that reading on an e-reader caused significantly less headaches. I think it must have something to do with how I hold a print book versus an e-reader and also not having to physically turn pages.

    Anyway, I am now a 100% ebook reader. It helps that my public library has such a vast collection of ebooks and is willing to make client suggested purchase requests. I have a hard time paying the same price for an ebook as a print book, especially since there is no paper, ink or shipping and handling involved. I find it annoying to pay $7.99 for an ebook when the print copy sells for the same amount, so unless it is an author I love, I will mostly borrow traditionally published books. This means most of the ebooks I buy are indie. Excluding those sales doesn’t show the whole picture.

  19. Angela Booth
    May 19, 2014 @ 00:25:08

    @AJ: I’m the same way. Over the past three years, I’ve become a digital-only reader. I love books, but can’t read a print book for hours on end because I get tension headaches.

    When I’m forced to read print, because there’s no digital version, I get a headache again. I read on my iPad and love the sepia background. It’s relaxing, I can turn down the brightness, and I can make the print larger if I want.

    The big benefit of going digital: no more wondering where I’m going to put all the books I bring home. My iPad holds thousands of ebooks… no shelf-building needed. :-)

    As “Overall reading is not increasing” — that’s sad. Nevertheless, I’m doing my bit. Since I’ve gone digital only, I’m reading more books, and spending more time reading.

  20. AJ
    May 19, 2014 @ 00:31:16

    @Angela Booth: I didn’t even mention that, but I love love love the sepia background too! I also turn the brightness down low.

  21. Shaun
    May 19, 2014 @ 04:09:26

    self-publishing market share is bigger than you might think. From

    Self-Publishing’s Share of the Kindle Market by Genre

    I’ve taken a quick whack at looking at what percentage of Kindle ebook sales self-publishers represent by genre. To get there, I simply look at the top 100 bestsellers in each genre—romance, mystery/thriller/suspense, science fiction, and fantasy—and split them up by method of publication. Note that, unlike the Author Earnings study, this is merely a breakdown of the raw number of self-published titles on the bestseller lists, not the number of total book sales within each genre.

    ROMANCE

    Self-published: 49%
    Small/medium: 11%
    Amazon: 9%
    Big 5/Harlequin: 30%

    MYSTERY/THRILLER/SUSPENSE

    Self-published: 11%
    Small/medium: 5%
    Amazon: 16%
    Big 5: 68%

    SCIENCE FICTION

    Self-published: 56%
    Small/medium: 9%
    Amazon: 5%
    Big 5 (plus Baen): 30%

    FANTASY
    Self-published: 49%
    Small/medium: 7%
    Amazon: 7%
    Big 5: 37%

  22. Steven Zacharius
    May 19, 2014 @ 05:53:26

    A well thought out article that shows no bias. Finally. Thank you. I agree that growth will come from foreign markets btw.

  23. Marguerite Kaye
    May 19, 2014 @ 08:36:37

    My mum was the first in our family to go digital, and she bought me my first kindle. Now all of my sisters read ebooks – and none of my brothers, who don’t read anyway, so no change there! I buy almost all my fiction on digital, though I still by favourite authors in print. Because I live in the sticks, my shopping is mostly done on-line anyway. I do find that my fiction tastes, aside from specific recs or known-to-me authors, is driven by Amazon now. I experiment, but only with what I’m directed at simply because as someone else said, actual shelf, old-fashioned style browsing is really difficult on-line.

    However, I buy all my non-fiction as print. And when I got to the big smoke to a real bookstore, I buy much more widely than I do on-line. If there was a big bookstore near my home, I think I’d buy a lot less kindle, and I’d actually happily pay more for less print – if that makes sense? My sampling of cheaper books is because I see it as lower risk and more value for money on-line, but it’s not the way I’d shop if I had a choice. I wonder how typical I am in this?

    On the foreign sales – as an author, I’d agree this is a growth market, I see it in my own sales. But it’s very slow, and it’s in a very few selected countries where it’s significant. I’m worried that reading is simply becoming less of a habit with young people, and that makes me very, very sad indeed.

  24. Erin Burns
    May 19, 2014 @ 09:59:49

    It never even occurred to me to use amazon to find new things to read. I predominantly use goodreads or review blogs to find new things to read. I can see how that would be frustrating though. Amazon’s algorithms are rather wonky.

  25. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 10:00:36

    1) Regarding your footnote: Amazon said no such thing. Amazon said that up to a quarter of the books on its top 100 lists are, on average over selected time intervals, indie-published. It is not possible to extrapolate from that to reach the assertion you make.

    2) Extrapolating from that, for the howeverth-many-time, Amazon does not release its sales figures for ebooks published traditionally versus independently published ebooks. Therefore, anyone, including but not limited to the AAP, who claims to know how many ebooks are being sold and what the percentage mix is is deluding themselves. We don’t know, and we don’t even know what we don’t know. Hugh Howey’s project using spiders to do deep data mining on Amazon is the closest thing we’ve got, and even he will readily admit it’s not perfect. Using his numbers, the growth rates being cited are not very realistic.

  26. Jane
    May 19, 2014 @ 10:06:49

    I see quite a few comments about the size of self publishing but I don’t think the size of self published author sales is all that relevant because I don’t see the self published reader as outside the group of power buyers. In other words, I don’t see self publishing itself increasing the size of the overall reader base.

    Rather, I see power buyers as those who have replaced traditional book purchases with self published book purchases. The Pew studies about readers (both young and old) aren’t addressing what types of books readers are buying (and I know Bowker is the same) because often readers don’t know or care about the distinction of published v. self published. It merely addresses the number of books individuals are reading/buying and in what format (print v. digital and/or audio).

    We definitely don’t know the size of the self published market, but the size of it doesn’t affect whether the number of consumers who buy / read books is growing, flattening or decreasing.

  27. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:04:33

    @Jane:

    “We definitely don’t know the size of the self published market, but the size of it doesn’t affect whether the number of consumers who buy / read books is growing, flattening or decreasing. ”

    Absolutely dead bang on in all respects, and a key point in the larger discussion of the future of books (and by extension, authors.)

    However, you’ve switched subject matter. The size of the self-published market doesn’t affect that (directly,) but neither does the share of e-books versus p-books. And the original topic was the plateauing of digital, not of books in general. The book market could double in size, or halve, tomorrow, and digital could do roughly the same thing, do exactly the opposite as a relative share, or do some other thing. The two are not directly related.

    Since the vast majority of self-published books are e-books, and since we have no idea how many self-published books are selling, we have no idea how many e-books are selling, and so we cannot have any idea if digital has plateaued, crashed, or continues on an escape-velocity trajectory for now.

  28. Jane
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:07:40

    @Marc Cabot: I disagree. See, the pew studies and others talk about the number of consumers who buy books and the number of consumers who have devices and the number of consumers that buy digital books. Those, together with the AAP numbers, speak to the size of the digital book buying audience.

  29. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:12:18

    @Jane: I likewise disagree that the sources you cite necessarily establish your position. From another online discussion of the same topic:

    “The majority of ‘Power Buyers’ have not moved to ebooks.

    In the current survey, Pew asked readers if they had read a book yesterday. For avid readers (the 9 – 10% people who reported reading 50 or more books a year), those who reported reading a print book yesterday outnumbered those who reported reading an ebook by 6 to 1.

    Granted, 40% of avid readers reported reading ebooks a few times a week or more on some device, but 65% of them read a print book yesterday. These numbers are pretty much in line with prior surveys. All this requires further analysis, but it suggests there is still a huge potential upside for indie authors.”

  30. Jane
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:22:47

    @Marc Cabot: I disagree with the power buyers have not moved to ebooks. The buyer powers have already moved to ebooks. If you look at the statistics shared by Kobo, for example, the power buyer demo matches up exactly with the power buyer from Bowker and Pew, and other resources. Power buyer, of course, is anyone who buys more than 5 books a year in some instances.

    There’s definitely upside to indie authors, but that’s not the same thing as discussing whether the digital readership is growing and/or what will make it grow larger. It’s not downplaying indie success to say that indies aren’t going to expand digital readership. It’s tough to grow a consumer base. It took a revolutionary device and sales platform (in the Kindle and Amazon) to make the digital readership grow.

    Now we have to look beyond that. Indies should be interested in this too because to grow their audience, they need readership to grow. Otherwise, everyone who sells digitally is working within the same pool.

  31. Steven Zacharius
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:27:20

    Please keep in mind that units sold mean nothing to the online retailers. It’s all about dollars that are billed. This is why although indie authors may make up a big percentage of Kindle business; the overall dollar volume is miniscule compared to traditionally published authors that are sold at higher ebook prices. But if the indie authors are making a living, and some are doing very well; that’s great. There are thousands and thousands though that don’t sell a single copy as well.

  32. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:39:06

    @Jane: All the power buyers who have moved to ebooks have moved to ebooks. (And the vast majority of the power buyers who have moved to ebooks have moved almost *entirely* to ebooks.) But that is not the same thing as saying that all the power buyers have moved to ebooks. Pew’s statistics above (65% of the people who read a book yesterday read a p-book, only 40% of them read an ebook a few times a week or more) emphatically say that they have not.

  33. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:40:39

    @Marc Cabot: The word “people” should be replaced by the term “power reader.” My apologies for the error.

  34. Jane
    May 19, 2014 @ 11:48:37

    @Marc Cabot: Let’s assume you are correct and that there are 40% of power buyers who have not switched. When will they switch and why? Do you think it is going to be an indie author that makes them switch?

  35. carmen webster buxton
    May 19, 2014 @ 12:00:29

    This is a nice analysis, but I propose one more item for your list of ways ebooks will grow– new readers (i.e., little kids) who “grow up digital.” The (US) generation that’s in elementary school now have never known life without a cell phone. I think kids’ story books will stay print longer than adult fiction, but at some point in the next decade, Little Tykes (or similar brand) will come out with a very sturdy color ereader so cheap that parents will opt for that instead only buying print books, especially since it is likely that such short books could include a “read-aloud” feature (not the robot voice that my Kindle has, but a recorded human reader) that could help kids learn to read. Hopefully, this won’t mean parents stop reading to their kids, but that kids who don’t read yet kids will have an option when mom and dad aren’t available.

    On the self-publishing option, I find your numbers encouraging. For us, the pyramid is wider than traditionally published books. A huge percentage of self-published books sell fewer than 100 copies EVER. A lot sell in the hundreds, some in the thousands, and a few in hundreds of thousands. In traditional publishing, the books on the bottom dropped off the pyramid entirely, because they went out of print. What ebooks have changed is, the book is ever “out of print,” and the cost of publishing is low enough that you can get the book out there and find out if will sell, instead of always wondering.

    And anyway, I’m having fun.

  36. Erin Burns
    May 19, 2014 @ 12:14:15

    I’ve seen questioned on here a few times, when will the power readers who haven’t switched yet, switch? I think probably a large portion of them will switch when they reach the point they need large type books but can’t get what they want as easily as they are used to. For many of my patients, that was the point at which they switched. So it may be possible to increase numbers if we got more librarians involved with pointing out the benefits of digital to patrons who complain about the small selection in large type books.

  37. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 13:56:58

    @Jane: Good question (although I’d assert it’s closer to 40% who *have* switched, not who haven’t. :) )

    To be optimistic, it will slowly increase as the majority of power readers who aren’t yet comfortable enough with tech (or are yet too enamored of paper books, and I say that as a person who has an honest-to-God LIBRARY in his house) to switch, find individual reasons to switch. A prior poster makes the excellent point that large-type availability will be a huge incentive, as will the lighter weight and ease of turning pages on e-readers compared to large print books. Better yet, the “read me aloud” features of ereaders will also continue to improve. When *every* book can be an audio book if your eyes aren’t cooperating today, THAT is a powerful selling point.

    To be pessimistic, it will slowly increase as older power readers die and are replaced with less technophobic younger power readers, assuming we are still producing any relevant number of power readers.

    I tend toward the optimistic (which is an unusual position for me) as I’ve seen several older members of my family, neither highly educated nor tech-friendly, switch to e-readers and start reading more books than they ever had in their lives.

  38. Steven Zacharius
    May 19, 2014 @ 16:01:33

    I believe the audio function has a long ways to go yet to get it away from sounding like a computer reading. Furthermore publishers can restrict that function to any online retailer. They do this so that the publisher can sell audio rights which also benefits the author.

  39. Marc Cabot
    May 19, 2014 @ 16:07:50

    @Steven Zacharius: Well, then, you sound like you’re trending more toward the pessimistic side of the spectrum. Fair enough. My crystal ball can be a bit buggy.

    Limiting the read-aloud will be a self-correcting problem. If some books have it and some books don’t, consumers will express a preference. Or it’s entirely possible that the whole industry will go to a configuration where you can buy the read-aloud rights for a small additional fee, on demand.

    The notion that read-aloud will be limited in the long term so that publishers can make a significant additional amount of money on the audio form-factor I find unlikely. People will always prefer a real human reader to a machine, I don’t hesitate to concede. But the read-aloud has come a long way and it will only get better. If people know the machine has the capability, and it is deliberately restricted by (some) publishers to – and this is how they will see it, I’m not casting personal aspersions – gouge them out of more money for the audiobook, they will not be happy. Unhappy consumers are a problem, and the device manufacturers and ebook retailers are going to react accordingly.

  40. Steven Zacharius
    May 19, 2014 @ 16:18:30

    I don’t see audio rights changing any time soon. It’s a source of revenue for the publisher and the author and publishers are very unlikely to allow the largest online retailers any more power than they currently have.

  41. MrsJoseph
    May 19, 2014 @ 16:25:10

    Well, I am a power reader/power buyer. I usually purchase about 1-5 books per week. Technically, I have already switched to digital. I have an overwhelmingly large ebook collection and I own two ereaders (and bought others readers as well).

    You know what happened? I found myself migrating back to print. Most of the time its cheaper and I enjoy the physical product. I also have a better chance at getting a well-edited book.

    Does this stop me from buying ebooks? No way! But it does make me pause prior to purchase. So there is a selection of readers like me – we’ve migrated, we use ebooks but we have slid back to Traditional print books by TradPub.

  42. Steven Zacharius
    May 19, 2014 @ 21:20:44

    @SAO: There are new ebook gift cards that are coming for specific titles. They will be hanging in stores like traditional gift cards but with the picture of the book on the card. They are being tested very shortly and will be rolling out in many big stores. They will then be a more “acceptable” gift especially because they will also feature bundles of books at a discounted price.

  43. Steven Zacharius
    May 19, 2014 @ 21:30:08

    @Shaun: Please keep in mind that whatever you based your analysis on was not based on revenue, which is what we all put in the bank. It’s based on unit sales I’m sure, which are meaningless to Amazon because it represents a fraction of their business because of the low price of the books that are making up these rankings.

  44. SAO
    May 20, 2014 @ 09:43:46

    @ Stephen Z:

    Then why can’t I get a computer voice to read books to me? I’d be interested in doing more audio books, but Audible takes 15 hours to read a book I can read in 2 or 3 hours. That’s over two weeks of my daily commute and it’s hard to keep my interest that long. I’d be okay listening to a computer voice, as long as it managed to get the words out at a decent speed.
    On the other hand, I’m not going to pay that much money to listen to a computer butcher names like Vronsky.

  45. batgrl
    May 21, 2014 @ 14:39:25

    I don’t consider myself someone who’s a digital reader only because my choice has everything to do with book prices and physical space issues – I really feel like it was the most practical option for me. It’s because of my love of books that I really *have* to be primarily an ebook consumer – I don’t have unlimited amounts of space to keep all the books I read, and I really don’t want to get rid of beloved paper books every time I want a new book. (I have hundreds of books, no exaggeration – I just packed them all!) In fact the only reason I buy paper books now is because 1) the book is old and/or obscure and isn’t probably going to be digitized or 2) the ebook price has remained stationary over a year and the paper book price is vastly lower, especially the used book option. And when I say lower, I mean the ebook is stuck around $20-$30 or more. But I’m thinking of specific history books, and academic press prices are always in the wacky end of the scale.

    What’s kept me buying are the regular sales on ebooks – and that’s actually how I pick up most of what I buy. The fact that I can easily find those sales online helps a lot too – well, easily thanks to DA deals posts, eReaderIQ, and random heads up from blogs I follow. I am happy that I no longer have to make regular trips to a local bookstore in hopes I’ll find a certain book, or at least one with a certain topic I want to read – and then when I don’t find something make do with something else because at that point I’ve gotten into bookstore-mode and just want to buy a book. Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to book stores – but now I don’t need to worry about being disappointed in not finding something specific.

    I think more readers will eventually come to think of ebooks as vital if they have any vision issues. I’m legally blind without glasses/contacts and the fact that I can adjust the font size of any of my ebooks if my vision gets worse is a really comforting thing.

  46. Charming Euphemism
    May 25, 2014 @ 16:42:12

    @Shaun:

    Great data, Shaun. Thanks.

  47. TeriCloth
    May 27, 2014 @ 08:30:38

    I’m a power reader, but not a power buyer. I get almost all my books via libraries. My e-reading vs paper book reading has gone up each year as more books are available as e-books in libraries. I wonder how library readers fit into e-book sales. I believe library use of an e-book is limited to less than 10 lending per book. I love the speech to text aspect of e-reading as I can listen as I do chores. All of the books that I actually buy are e-books that are part of a series that I started as a library reader.

  48. TeriCloth
    May 27, 2014 @ 08:32:19

    Please excuse any typos as Swype an I have a bit of an issue at the time.

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