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The Sky isn't Falling - the Sky is Falling - the Sky isn't Falling


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#1 Rick Spilman

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 08:35 AM

The media is notorious for wild swings in reporting. Not long ago the ebook market was dismissed as trivial. Then, suddenly, ebooks were taking over the world, destroying print books like Godzilla destroyed Toyko.

In another thread, AC Crew posted a link to a study that showed a bit more balanced perspective - notwithstanding predicting gloom, if not necessarily doom, for the publishing industry.

By 2014, the research note predicts, e-books will occupy some 13 percent of U.S. book publishing revenue, more than twice its current level.


So today the ebook market in terms of revenue is somewhat less than half of 13% according to the research. That is very dramatic growth, but nevertheless, print books still generate roughly 94% of revenue today and, if the research is correct, will still generate 87% in 2014.

A February study by Pew Internet suggests why this is the case. It found that ereaders, either eink devices or tablets were each owned by roughly 5% of American adults. (It didn't break down how many of each five percent owned both Kindle and iPad.) So somewhere between 5 and 10% of all adults own at least one ereader. That would fit reasonably well with the revenue figures quotes in the previous research.

Generations and their gadgets

I did my own wholly non-statistically significant study. Between May of last year and now my blog sold roughly 1,000 books through the Amazon Associates program. 85% were print and 15% were Kindle. (By revenue, the figure was 90% print and 10% Kindle.)

The conclusion I draw from all of this is that the ebook market is growing dramatically but print is still around and will be for some time. I suspect that in the world of fiction, the opportunities for traditional and self-publishing of ebooks are significant and likely to increase. Nevertheless, while we may be at the dawn of a new era, the sun has not yet fully risen.

#2 jwmstudio

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 08:45 AM

Great balanced perspective. There's nothing like a sunrise; it's good to be awake for it.
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#3 AQCrew

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 09:00 AM

Great post, Rick, and very informative perspective...

We've been contemplating this issue traditional print vs. digital as well as the "death of the publishing industry" (or at least -- what we view as non-growth within the print publishing market) every day now.

It's a very nuanced issue with several complicating business and economic factors. Plus, it's an emotional one when discussed amongst writers who are seeking a traditional book deal WITH a traditional advance as well as published author who still consider print publishing a significant portion of their financial livelihoods.

And as we ponder all these issues, we keep coming back to a few conclusions:

1. We're at the start if this whole thing (7% is the magic number of the eReader market now)
2. Print sales and distribution are declining (death of Borders was the first mainstream bell toll, but we saw major attrition occurring back in 2009 with major publishing houses cutting editorial staff and acquiring less and less titles)
3. Everyone is now fighting to find the readers... the readers... you remember those people? Yeah, the people who actually buy and read the books--whether print or eBooks.

And for the writers who are sitting on the sidelines watching this all play out?

The other conclusion we've come to is that it's important to discuss the impact of traditional vs. digital publishing in terms of your specific genre.

Literary fiction published by the majors (and major indie mid-tiers) is still firmly tied to traditional publishing and the traditional venues for distribution, and we sadly don't see that changing very soon. Bummer for us, and a major reason why we feel so much personal consternation.

On the other hand, romance--in part lead by Harlequin and its myriad of imprints--seems to be embracing the digital transition because its readers/customers are embracing the digital reading experiences.

Just like writers need to assess their specific genre when trying to make the right agent-match, they also need to assess their book's specific genre in terms of traditional vs. digital publishing options and the future of THAT genre's transition.

#4 mwsinclair

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 09:20 AM

Rick, great information! As someone who sees readers every day on the trains heading into and out of New York, I'd love to see how those demographics break down by geography. From my observation -- clearly not a scientific study -- I'd say that among readers, print books and e-readers (including smartphones) are nearly 50/50. It may be closer to 60/40 print to e-reader, but there's clearly a very strong e-reader component in this neck o'the woods. But my observation station is fairly unique as it traverses a wealthy sector of NJ, where early adopters often live.

I also recently got in touch with a former NY Times reporter who's looking to venture into e-publishing. She's working with Amazon and said that they're trying to find writers for Kindle Singles. At the moment, those are focused on nonfiction only, but according to the reporter, Amazon intends to expand into fiction, with a focus on novellas. The length of these items is between 10,000 and 40,000 words. Personally, I think this is very exciting information. And I intend to delve deeper to find out more.



#5 RC Lewis

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 09:38 AM

Matt, I'm also curious about the demographics, by geography as well as other factors (age, education, etc.). I suspect e-readers are especially popular in urban/metro areas where a lot of commuting happens on mass transit. And like you said, among people who tend to be early adopters anyway.

Other than myself, I know of one teacher at my school who reads books on her iPhone. I know of one teacher with an iPad (not sure whether she reads books on it), and one other teacher with a Kindle. I imagine part of the reason is that most of our free reading time happens either in the classroom or at home.

Lots to think about.
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#6 Rick Spilman

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:02 AM

Matt, I'm also curious about the demographics, by geography as well as other factors (age, education, etc.). I suspect e-readers are especially popular in urban/metro areas where a lot of commuting happens on mass transit. And like you said, among people who tend to be early adopters anyway.



If the folks at Smashwords are right, the largest readership on a per capita basis is in cold and/or rural settings. In their ranking of per capita ebook consumption, Alaska, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming are the top four.

Where U.S. Ebook Buyers Live

#7 jwmstudio

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:09 AM

If the folks at Smashwords are right, the largest readership on a per capita basis is in cold and/or rural settings. In their ranking of per capita ebook consumption, Alaska, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming are the top four.

Where U.S. Ebook Buyers Live

I'm in rural SW VA. It's a 45 min drive to an actual bookstore. I know at least five people who have dedicated e-readers (kindle / nook) lots more with ipads and iphones.
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#8 RC Lewis

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:15 AM

If the folks at Smashwords are right, the largest readership on a per capita basis is in cold and/or rural settings. In their ranking of per capita ebook consumption, Alaska, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming are the top four.

Where U.S. Ebook Buyers Live

That's what has me wondering, though, because there are obviously a lot of factors. In rural settings where they're stuck inside a lot of the winter, is it that they have a lot of time with nothing more pressing to do than read, so those that do read e-books buy a lot more of them? I wish I could find some stats more like "e-book utilization". Not based on number of e-books purchased, but simply the percent of people that read e-books either sometimes or often (rather than rarely or never).

I'm curious about Utah, too (being from there and all). Though parts of it are very rural, I wonder how many of those e-books are being bought by people on the Wasatch Front (basically a big swath of I-15 extending north and south of Salt Lake City). In my experience, there are a lot of early adopters in that region. We've had a lot of tech companies set up shop there over the years (WordPerfect started out there, Novell, Micron, eBay), and there are a lot of fairly large universities. Also, as of 2008, Utah ranks 11th in percent of bachelor's degree holders. (Not bad when you consider the number of stay-at-home moms. Lots of them have college degrees.)

All of this is why when I see some percent noted in an article, I ignore it unless I can figure out what it's *really* telling me. :blush:
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#9 Rick Spilman

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:24 AM

I think that there is a larger change taking place that is often obscured by the discussion of print versus ebooks. The real digital revolution may not be in the mode of delivery but in the length of the book shelves.

With scarce shelf space the big publishers focused on bestsellers and trashed their mid-lists. With a digital store like Amazon and increasingly Barnes and Noble, literally millions of titles are available. One comment one hears these days is that the ebook sales support the mid-list. Readers who enjoy an author's books will often buy other books by the same author. In the old publishing model those books were often out of print or hard to find. Now they are literally a couple of clicks away. Even print book are more accessible now that digital publishing has reduced the minimum print run size down to single digits. Likewise the movement of used book stores online has opened up the dusty back corners of these store to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

This should be good news to the majority of writers who do not hit the lottery and have bestsellers listed in the New York Times. It is just possible that greater numbers of mid-list writers might have the chance to make a living writing.

#10 mwsinclair

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:47 AM

That's exactly what I'm hoping, Rick. Like probably everyone here, I'd love to hit the literary lottery and see my work become a best seller. But the odds are against that happening. It's far more likely that I'll be swimming with the rest of the mid-listers in the Ocean of the Underappreciated Authors. Of course, we'll all need to get our names out there, just as we will anyway, but I think e-readers could really do a lot for folks like us. One of these days, I may even buy one myself!

#11 Rick Spilman

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:55 AM

As someone who sees readers every day on the trains heading into and out of New York, I'd love to see how those demographics break down by geography. From my observation -- clearly not a scientific study -- I'd say that among readers, print books and e-readers (including smartphones) are nearly 50/50.


That's exactly what I'm hoping, Rick. Like probably everyone here, I'd love to hit the literary lottery and see my work become a best seller. But the odds are against that happening. It's far more likely that I'll be swimming with the rest of the mid-listers in the Ocean of the Underappreciated Authors. Of course, we'll all need to get our names out there, just as we will anyway, but I think e-readers could really do a lot for folks like us. One of these days, I may even buy one myself!


My wife bought her Kindle specifically for her commute on the PATH. She couldn't stand in a crowded train and hold a large hard cover book with one hand and hold onto the train with the other.




#12 mwsinclair

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 11:11 AM

I know that routine well. I tend to read paperbacks on the PATH for the same reason.

#13 Cat Woods

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 11:16 AM

I would support the cold-weather stat where cities are few and far between. Before my last move, the closest bookstore was 2 hours away. Seriously. Now it's an hour. Obviously, I don't make the journey often in the dead of winter, and neither do many other residents.

That being said, these states also have low populations demographically speaking, so while we may have a higher percentage of e-readers, our impact is lessened due to our smaller numbers.

Additionally, our demographics are traditionally poorer as a whole (small communities made up of blue-collar workers) with a huge socio-economic gap between those who have and those who don't. And yet, North Dakota (Fargo) and South Dakota (Sioux Falls) have two of the most stable economies across the board. They are seldom hit by the major flucuations that the rest of the country encounters.

More fodder to ponder...

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#14 Cat Woods

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 11:23 AM

Crew makes a great point in knowing the audience for your book and how those readers tend to buy.

MG and under juvie books are not highly sought after by e-readers (the individuals not the devics) at this point with good reason. However, this also lends itself to a few innovative persons/companies willing to ignite this love in the very young.

Already the DSI xl (personal game system for those without littles) has e-reader capabilities, so the mode is there. The books are not, nor is the buying power for this age group.

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#15 Peter Burton

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 12:35 PM

Not to run off topic, but I see this as pretty much the same thing as when television, and later, the introduction of cable started.

At the beginnings of television, the movie industry dismissed it as a fad. As the market grew, and television became more predominate, they began to panic. After all, who would go to the movies, if they could stay at home and watch shows for free? (Basically, for those of us old enough to remember when there were only three television stations. ABC, NBC, CBS.)

Then came cable with the same concerns, in pretty much the same order, for the big three. And it has still worked out.

Movies are still around, people still watch the big three, and the 'newbies' have their slice of the pie as well.

I've a feeling that e-book verses trad-book is no different. Eventually the big six will begin to see the added benefit of e-books, and e-book rights, and jump into the market.

At the moment I'm thinking they are speculating, and waiting to see bigger numbers first. I believe they will. Mostly because I don't see e-books going away like a fad. They are just too convenient.

As been said above, the market will be a revival of the mid-listers. There has always been a mid-list, and I hope to make it to a mid-list, eventually. Mostly because that's where the best sellers come from, and ya never know... if we are good at our craft, our chances are as good as anybody's.

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#16 jwmstudio

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 01:04 PM

Crew makes a great point in knowing the audience for your book and how those readers tend to buy.

MG and under juvie books are not highly sought after by e-readers (the individuals not the devics) at this point with good reason. However, this also lends itself to a few innovative persons/companies willing to ignite this love in the very young.

Already the DSI xl (personal game system for those without littles) has e-reader capabilities, so the mode is there. The books are not, nor is the buying power for this age group.


I can see enhanced e-books changing this - kind of a digital equivalent of the Pirateology and 39 Clues books with Freddie Fish (my littles are very little) world building.
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#17 mwsinclair

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 01:38 PM

As the old journalism saying goes: Follow the money. Right now, as Crew pointed out, the vast majority of money is in traditional publishing. That's where a lot of agents will continue to reside, but the smart ones are learning as fast a they can what is happening in the epublishing medium. I've seen posts here by agented writers who say their agents are encouraging them to investigate epublishing. And Crew has written many times about how savvy writers will be a valuable commodity as the revolution evolves.

I think I'm late to the party. I don't even own an e-reader. But I darn well plan on keeping on top of this revolution. The way I look at it, my future is caught in that maelstrom.






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