The tussle between eBooks and print books has been going on for more than a decade now. There are loyalists on both sides. With the increase in demand for eBooks, eBook conversion services came to be used more with many reliable providers active in the market. The competition between eBooks and print books is centered on securing the attention of the reading public, capturing market share in the publishing business and winning the hearts of librarians and their patrons. Earlier, it was thought that eBooks would outface print books, though recent news and data show that print is still going strong and provide a few hints about how marketplace developments and librarian’s collection development plans are emerging.
Trends in the Publishing Market
Some reports show that the sales of eBooks are gradually declining. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reports that eBook sales in the US declined by a dramatic 18.7 percent in the first nine months of 2016. In terms of dollar revenue, eBooks sales declined to about $877 million. At the same time, hard cover and paperback sales grew more than $1.7 billion and $1.6 billion respectively. The Publishers Association reports a 17 percent drop in eBook sales over the same period, NPD BookScan data also reported in Publishers Weekly that during 2016, eBook sales dropped almost 15 percent to about 179 million units.
From 2015 there have been indications for the past few years that the liking for eBooks has started declining. The war between the two formats started with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle for holiday gift giving in 2007, followed by Nook, the Kobo e-reader and others in January 2011. Amazon announced that eBooks are overtaking print books in sales. Publishers’ Weekly cites NPD BookScan data showing that eBook unit sales exploded from 69 million in 2010 to 243 million in 2013. Things gradually started changing when the eBooks’ dominance seemed assured. EBook readers started to lose out to smartphones and tablets and AAP data shows a leveling off in eBook sales after 2013. CNN reports that during the period 2011 – 2016, the sales of e-readers declined by more than 40 percent. Recent NPD BookScan data cited by Publishers Weekly shows that hardcover print unit sales held steady over the past 5 years while eBooks declined and hard cover books outsold eBooks for the first time ever since 2011.
Are These Reports Reliable?
Although the report states that the sales of eBooks have dropped, all observers do not accept these statistics.
- EBooks are often sold through platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, and these titles generally don’t carry International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) and are not included in the industry reports. This means that the actual number of eBooks sold is not correctly estimated.
- Other special circumstances also increased the sales of print books like popularity of adult coloring books that cannot be replaced by eBooks.
What about Libraries?
Librarians have hugely invested in eBook collections and the results are rewarding.
- Kathleen Teaze, director of Prince George’s County Memorial Library System says that patron interest in eBooks has been an eye opener.
- The circulation of eBooks has expanded as much as 100 percent per year and the expansion and collection has been widespread.
- As indicated by “The State of America’s Libraries 2016,” only 35 percent of school librarians said that they were acquiring digital content in 2010 but in 2015 this number increased to 69 percent.
- The “2014 Digital Inclusion Survey” by the University of Maryland shows that 90 percent of US public libraries offered eBooks.
- The Library Journal’s Material Survey 2017 tracks budgets and circulation at public libraries and found that in 2016, 27 percent of library materials expenditure went to media than print. They also found that the media circulation was down slightly in 2016 which accounted for 31 percent of total circulation while print circulation dropped to 57 percent of the total.
EBooks remain the larger market in libraries with people finding it easy to download and read the books they want, even on the go. However, eBook scan improve their popularity and acceptance much more among library users. From the viewpoint of authors, compared to printed books, they can more quickly publish their books in electronic form with reliable e book conversion services. While a completely accurate picture of the eBook market vs. print book market may not emerge, an important thing to remember is that library readers are passionate about reading and are borrowing both physical books and eBooks. Their primary concern is to obtain premium content in any way possible.