The Rise and Fall of eBooks – What’s Next For 21st Century Publishing?

by Emma Crosby

2012-12-11_ebookThere’s no denying the power of a good book, whether it’s in traditional print or digital format, and new tales are constantly being woven that continue to make the move to the big and little screens. However, the initial boom of eBooks looks to be coming to an end, with eBook sales taking a severe hit in recent years. This has caused some large print retailers, such as Waterstones in the UK, to claim that the print form is set to make a comeback. Whether the digital marketplace really is dead for books could be more complicated than it seems, and there are a number of reasons that could account for the lull in popularity over the last few years. The fact is that the written word is becoming increasingly digital, whether it appears in the form of creative literary works or marketing material, with ever increasing access to mobile internet and portable digital devices, we are all far more likely to be reading from digital sources. It could be the latest book in the Game of Thrones series, or some content produced by web copywriting agencies, and it perhaps this ongoing reliance and preference for the digital format that makes the drop in eBook sales so puzzling.

 

eBook Facts and Trends

nookbutton3In order to put things in perspective, it’s perhaps important to remember that eBooks have been through a bad patch before. Since their initial appearance in the late 1990s, eBooks were initially slow to be accepted. While a few big name authors, such as Stephen King, were quick to embrace the new format, technology limitations at the time made reading an eBook a generally unpleasant experience, with many of the early devices developed exclusively for eBooks causing eye strain and headaches as a result of bright screens and poor letter visibility. However, as the technology became better, the demand increased. The release of the first Amazon Kindles met with great success, and spurned on a huge growth in eBook sales. Understandably, a number of publishers were quick to get involved as well, leading to eBooks being distributed by a number of major publishing houses and book retailers. Furthermore, the Apple iPad, and accompanying tablets that hit the market, helped to increase the popularity and convenience of eBooks even more.

 

Two Sides of the Coin

kindle-img.1While there is concern over the recent plummet in sales figures, it’s not necessarily all bad news. To begin with, many thought that the previous triple figure growth was not sustainable, and bound to come to an end sooner or later. Additionally, many in the sector see the slow down as a good sign, or at the very least a mixed blessing to some extent. The slow down in eBooks sales has for example, also slowed down the decline of print sales, which is good news for both traditional book shops and publishers heavily invested in print. Additionally, a large proportion of the growth last year is thought to be down to big blockbuster books, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, and The Hunger Games. There were no titles that claimed this level of popularity in the intervening time period. Secondly, while tablet sales have been going through the roof, research has shown that tablet users are much less likely to buy eBooks than those that purchase dedicated eBook readers, such as the Kindle. Analysts also point to the fact that everyone in the industry is likely to be much happier with a more stable, cross format marketplace in the future, and that eBook sales are likely to remain much lower than before for a few more years. That said, it certainly looks like the eBook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and will simply be another possible choice for the reader. Finally, the fact that just over 30% of all eBook revenue was generated by indie and self publishing authors is a sign that the eBook will certainly continue to be a favourite platform for writers to showcase and sell their work. Overall then, while the sudden drop in sales may be a shock, it doesn’t necessarily translate into bad news for the eBook, or the book world in general. In fact, we are likely to see not only a return to print in the future, but a much more stable marketplace in general, while eBooks continue to be a great platform for up and coming writers.