Whaaat? Print Books Are Back?

Armageddon for the printed word never materialized, it passed us by. Well at least that’s what we expected when eBooks arrived on the scene. Five years ago, we (authors) feared the printed word was on the way out and that to see our work in print would be the exception rather than the rule. Between 2008 and 2010, readers flocked to e-readers, e.g., Kindle, Nook, etc., and print sales began to dwindle. We watched as bookstores fought to keep their collective heads above water, fearing that once loyal customers were abandoning them for cheaper e-versions of their favorite authors’ works.cititul

In 2011 a literary earthquake struck the reading public when Borders declared bankruptcy. We shook our heads and chalked it up to technology making our lives better. It was thought that digital books would overtake print this year, 2015. We watched a similar transition occur in the music world.

Then, something strange happened. Suddenly, the trend slowed. People began to eschew the digital word for the old, reliable, comfortable print book. In the first five months of 2015, e-book sales fell 10 percent. Sales of Kindles and e-readers fell off even more, dropping from nearly 20 million devices sold in 2011, to about 12 million last year. A Nielsen survey early this year found a 50 percent drop in the number of folks using e-readers.

E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television. As a result, publishing houses are ramping up their print infrastructures and distribution centers. Hatchette and Simon & Schuster are expanding their storage and distribution capabilities. Penguin Random House, which has nearly 250 imprints around the world, reported that print books account for more than 70 percent of their sales in the U.S. In addition, HarperCollins said faster deliveries due to expanded infrastructure means bookstores can place smaller initial orders and restock as needed. This strategy reduced returns of unsold books by about 10 percent.

There is no denying that reading a book on an electronic device is handy and convenient. The time spent at the doctor’s office waiting to be seen, or taking the train to and from work, are times when reading from your smart phone makes sense. However, my thought is that the reading public wants a tangible connection with the story and its author. Having a print book in hand, and the ease of being able to skip back to a chapter or page, makes for a comfortable fit.

Maybe it’s too soon to tell. Maybe it’s simply a pause, as Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster says. But I think we’ve seen a balance struck. Both e-readers and the printed word will share the stage together in the coming years. More importantly, the death of the printed book was just a result of fearful publishers crying wolf. Now, let’s start stocking those shelves.

Published by John M. Wills

Award-winning author and freelance writer. Published ten books in addition to more thant 200 articles, short stories, and poetry. Writing professionally since retiring from the FBI in 2004.

12 thoughts on “Whaaat? Print Books Are Back?

  1. Let’s not forget audio! Some thrillers are excellent in their audio version, but not, of course, if they have too many characters. This is good news, John, and the message seems to me to be that, in the worst case, print will hold its own.

  2. I’ve always loved print books and many time, when I’ve had a book event and the inevitable “Can I get it on Kindle?” question comes up, I always say, “Yes, but your Kindle copy won’t be signed by the author!” Sometimes that’s all it takes to convince someone to buy the book… that physical connection to the author.

  3. Each version – digital and audio and print has a different purpose and different convenience for me. But you can’t beat a print version for enjoyable, overall general reading, studying, or review.

  4. I’m a huge fan of e-readers because I have moved frequently, and the expense and difficulty of transporting a large number of books from place to place (especially cross-country) eventually required that I reduce the number of books on my shelf. With my e-reader, I can keep all my favorites (and hundreds more) no matter where I go.

    Yet I do love the feeling of a book in hand. I love the smell of the stacks at the library and that walk to the library or bookstore to select something tangible and bring it home to enjoy. I also love being able to see what others are reading by peeking at the cover of the book in their hands! Having books signed is also something truly special.

    It’s great having so many choices now, and e-books are a necessary and quite desirable part of life for me, but I do sincerely hope that print books will never become a thing of the past.

    1. Great points, Nancy, I agree. I like the choice as well, but as the song goes–“Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing.”

  5. I agree that e-books are handy, especially for traveling, but I love print books. Also, that dreaded e-book question at book signings can be frustrating. If I’m trying to sell a hardcover book–a hard sell already–I’m grateful that they can go home and buy the e-book but still am overcome with that feeling of desperation when my pile of books doesn’t get any smaller. But for backlist that the publisher has let go out of print, e-books are amazing. Someone can read a whole series, in order, for pennies. And more of those pennies find their way into my bank account.

    I think we’ve been on kind of a shakedown cruise here, while people figure out which medium they want to read in, and which books in each format. I still feel that special connection with the author when I pick up a physical book. I wonder if that’s true for readers with digital books?

    Kate Flora

    1. I’m with you, Kate, and I also am a bit deflated when at a signing and people tell me they’d rather have the digital version.

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