The Trouble With E-books

Andrew AlbaneseThe notion that we live in publishing’s digital age faces a new challenge. Earlier this year, we learned that print may be getting a second wind. This week, the latest sales numbers from leading publishers show a decline in e-books.

“The big question is, What is up with e-books?—or I should say, down with e-books? In their financial results posted this week, lower e-book sales were a big factor in weak financial performances at HarperCollins, and in limiting the gains at an otherwise good quarter for Simon & Schuster. Hachette also reported underwhelming numbers,” says Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.

Of course, the digital revolution has not actually retreated – ask anyone with a smartphone. Yet industry executives say they are “watching closely” as e-book sales  and total digital revenues disappoint. What do they see as behind the shift?

“In Frankfurt, the discussions I had with the major publishers revealed largely that no one seemed to expect this dip to last. Although, I have to say, no one could explain what was happening,” Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “Print, while up in some sectors, is not picking up the slack for the loss in e-books. And I, for one, am concerned that lost e-book sales, means lost readers.”

Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.

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6 Responses to “The Trouble With E-books”

  1. Bob Pimm November 13, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Doesn’t the drop in ebook sales directly correlate to the across-the-board ebook price increases forced on the market by the major publishers? Once ebooks lost their significant price advantage — the magic $9.99 number advocated by Amazon as supported by their big-data showing how that specific price-point drives demand — book buyers have backed off this category (and the devices to read this category — hence the drop in e-reader and tablet sales).

  2. Karen Schousboe December 14, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    Yes, Ebooks have started to become as expensive as or even more than PB. Price in this instance is everything… However, another important explanation is the competition from film-providers like Netflix, HBO, Amazon etc. There is always a new film or series available, which was not the case three or four years ago. people – and especially children and youngsters – do not read books anymore (alas)

  3. Ian Metcalfe February 17, 2016 at 4:56 am #

    Anecdotal evidence from a number of people I have spoken to recently would suggest that the ease with which EBooks could be purchased resulted in many books being bought but never being read at all- readers were over-optimistic about how much time they had available to read; and this is behavior now being corrected. Its a bit like my own experience of over – borrowing library books – but then that doesn’t cost anything so I carry on.

  4. Ginnilee Berger February 17, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    I think the problem lies in the prices consumers are being asked to pay; I personally expect the ebooks I buy to cost less than the dead-tree version. But many publishers are expecting us to pay the same price or more as mass markets.

    There’s also the Kindle Unlimited program, which I shamelessly take advantage of, where you pay $9.99 a month and can borrow up to 10 books at a time. Of course, once they’re on my kindle even after returning a book, it’s there until I take it off.

  5. J February 20, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    Ebook sales have not decreased. Only those by traditional publishers who jacked up their prices. Self-published ebook sales are increasing. Amazon is doing quite well.

  6. Kryst February 21, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    Agree with J. The decline in sales is for traditional publishers facing competition from low-priced self-published titles. And disagree that ebook prices are too high. Gift cards costs as much as most ebooks!

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