Remain Calm

We’re Just Fine

Some news on the publishing front from the literary boffins at Al Grauniad. Apparently, ebook sales in the UK are down 17%. This, while print sales are up 6%, according to this article (corroborating, if drier information here, which I’ll revisit, as well).

There’s a mess of op-ed muck gumming up an otherwise useful article on interesting trends in the publishing industry. Of course, the relevant information would only take a paragraph. Two at the outside. I gave you the first half at the top, though the author of the Guardian’s shining example took to the bottom of the second paragraph to get to the point. The rest of that space was taken up with lauding the tactile joy of book destruction.

My father taught me to respect books after one of his that I lent out came back more or less destroyed. I think I replaced it. I sure hope I did, though it’s been a few decades. I should buy him a book. Well, I should write him a book. The chat we had certainly changed how I treated his. Dog-earing pages and breaking book spines are pleasures? Those are killing offenses where I come from, but apparently that’s what indicates bibliophilia for the author. YMMV, I suppose.

The author spends a great deal of space bashing the Kindle. She even recruits an ally from inside the publishing industry to help. “It was new and exciting … But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they?” It would seem new versions of the Kindle are so terribly difficult to find that the Guardian felt the urge to take a shot at a more-than-decade old piece of hardware.

The agent quoted above goes on to speculate that readers want “trendy tech” and that Amazon just doesn’t have that. MGC’s own Amanda Green is the proud owner of a Kindle Oasis, and spent a few minutes of her precious time talking it up to me this morning. It sounds mighty impressive. She’s charged hers twice in the month and more since she got it. The accompanying carry case contains a secondary battery that greatly extends its battery life, and at 5.6″ x 4.8″ x 0.13-0.33″, it’s more than small enough to fit into a pocket. I could probably load an entire family’s worth into one of my kilt pockets, and have room left over.

The second article linked suggests readers are giving up ebooks due to “screen fatigue.” Now, I get that. I stare at a screen for several hours each day, whether I want to or not (good, solid exercise) and it can get pretty tiring. But that’s a 28” monitor with fairly bright lighting. That’s not E-ink on a paperwhite screen. A screen with LEDs that illuminate just the surface of the screen, for those of you who read after bedtime.

The first article goes on to suggest that readers are buying fewer devices upon which to read, and apparently that translates to fewer ebooks bought. It’s not explicit, but they sure seem to want me to make that connection. I don’t really understand why. I mean, if I get the Oasis I’m now lusting over (don’t mind the drool) I’ll be working to make sure that lasts me at least a few more years than the cited trend from ’12-’14. It’s expensive, and I don’t want to have to buy another one terribly soon (no matter how shiny newer models might be). I expect most readers share my outlook. I’ve had the same phone for three years, and unless the OS leaves it useless, will likely use the same one for another three. It works, and I don’t want to pay for a new one.

The next several paragraphs are a paean to the magic of printed literature. Well, sort of. I guess books-as-objects are now being celebrated again. One thing I’ve learned in my adventures in publishing is my sense of taste isn’t mainstream. The thing now is apparently to use books as a sort of objet d’art, the centerpiece for temporary displays recorded (as everything these days) and uploaded to Teh Interwebs. There’s even a hashtag.

I tell the truth, this writer kinda boggles. I love attractive books as much as the next writer, but mostly what I love is the information. The story, the use thereof as a means to transport my psyche to somewhere I’ll never go physically. Also, I have a toddler, and a soon-to-be-toddler, and nothing pretty is safe unless it’s locked up. In a chest. In another state. And even then…

The author make the interesting observation that children’s books and cookbook sales haven’t transferred to digital as well as other genre. I, for one, am shocked. Wee Dave is astonishingly deft for a nearly-three-year-old, and he manages some of the strangest physical combobulations. Especially when it comes to objects. The notion of handing him a brand new Oasis to read on makes me outright twitchy.

Similarly, I’m not clear that trying to use an ereader while cooking is a good idea. Kitchens are notoriously liquid-prone environments. Also heat, direct and indirect. Knives, spices, meat tenderizers, oh my. Then again, I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. Suitably planned out. But there are plenty of reasons people wouldn’t get children’s books, especially, in eformat. Reasons that suggest there’s something at work besides “people don’t like ebooks as much as they used to. Back in the old days.”

I’m going to skip a bit. Honestly, you should go read the article. At least skim it. It’s an entertaining insight into the publishing industry, if nothing else.

Next, the author makes the staggering claim that digital publishing isn’t the enemy of print publishing. My jaw dropped. And then I read on. It seems augmented reality events and audiobooks are the evidence thereof. I can’t make this up.

But then, after a digression about a cheap ebook’s accidental success as a marketing tool for the print version, comes the most important paragraph in the entire article.

The figures from the Publishing Association should be treated with some caution. They exclude self-published books, a sizable market for ebooks. And, according to Dan Franklin, a digital publishing specialist, more than 50% of genre sales are on ebook. Digital book sales overall are up 6%.

That’s right. The data from the Publishing Association ignores self-published ebooks. In point of fact, digital sales are actually up.

It’s traditional publishing that’s seeing a slump in ebook sales. The trads, who price their ebooks in the trade paper to hardcover range, who include digital rights management code in their ebooks, who actively work to discourage readers from buying their wares in digital. The rest of us? Well, it would seem we’re doing fairly well. I’d like to see more data, honestly, though I wouldn’t likely have time to do anything with it.

Frankly, both articles linked feel a lot like a desperate Chip Diller, screaming that all is well. No, really, traditional publishing is doing Just Fine. Thanks for asking. I said We’re Fine.

38 Comments

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38 responses to “Remain Calm

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    I could understand why sales of “single use” ereaders are down but that has very little to do with sales of ebooks.

    Now, I had “single use” ereaders but “moved up” to a tablet which also could be used to read ebooks.

    I’m currently using a Kindle Fire which isn’t a “single use” device.

    While I’m holding off of purchasing new ebooks, that has more to do with finances than anything else. IE I’m not purchasing dead-tree books either. 😉

    • Exactly, even my first eReader, an off brand one that was a Christmas 2010 gift, was an Android device and was used as a tablet. I have never used a single use item for eBooks.

    • Dorothy Grant

      We do have a kindle and a kindle fire, as well as the on-screen reading app, and the android app… but that’s because we want to test an ebook on as many devices as possible, to make sure that it looks good, before we publish it.

      That, and I read on the android kindle app at work.

      • Stanley Miller

        More people should do some real testing on different devices. I see a remarkable number of books that look just great on my Android Kindle app as long as I leave the background white but are aggravating and ugly if I switch to one of the color options or black.

    • caitliniwoods

      I just read books on my phone. It’s supposed to bw a giant pain, but… well, it isn’t? (Tablet us easier, but I always have a phone on me anyway.)

      • Yeah, my kindle app does what I want.

        Re: screen fatigue – it’s still why I prefer physical books; and I try to obtain books in hardcover from authors I like. I’m looking up how to bind books so that my old, out of print favorites will be preserved.

  2. Good catch, Dave! I saw this first thing on Drudge, and took a look at it. Being that this is The Guardian we’re talking about, I immediately assumed that they’re Wrongity Wrong wrong, because Guardian. They are -always- wrong.

  3. paladin3001

    Currently on my second Kindle as the first one just died on me (after 3 years I guess of hard use). Looking at what’s written here, what’s available on Amazon, I don’t trust a mainstream news article to fully get what’s going on. Especially reporters that have issues with basic science or other things (*cough* firearms *cough*). You also have to realize they are in the same orbit as mainstream book publishers so they will be working to push the idea of the end of indie press.
    Oh, and as to the whole toddler thing, I enjoy my kindle for that reason alone. Currently all my dead tree books are in storage until my son reaches the proper age where ripping paper and emptying shelves isn’t fun anymore. As to board books…. *whimper* He’s destroyed his entire library.

  4. The link appears to be
    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/27/screen-fatigue-sees-uk-ebook-sales-plunge-17-as-readers-return-to-print
    However, the cautionary paragraph seems to have vanished, at least as viewed from the US.

    The Guardian did a fine job on circulating the Snowden revelations.

  5. Draven

    “ebooks are down”

    ten paragraphs later

    “the numbers we used for reference don’t count indie, which is most of ebooks”

    I’m willing to bet that the ‘publishing association’ only counts books from publishers that report to it, too, so most small presses get ignored.

  6. Traditionally published ebook prices make me look cheap – and I price almost as high as Amazon allows while still paying out 70% royalties. Why? Because, in the words of a reviewer, “this is a big honken book, but I didn’t know that until I had been reading for several hours,and had only finished 17% of the text. However, I compare it to the Thanksgiving feast we just celebrated at our house.” But mostly because those are the readers I want, and it makes me look like a bargain compare to 11.99-16.99 traditionally published literary books.

    I wouldn’t consider paying 16.99 for an ebook.

  7. Uncle Lar

    Bitches about the Kindle being clunky and unhip then waxes poetic about the nostalgic feel of turning paper pages.
    Right, now pull the other one.
    And my information is that a lot of millenials are reading books on their phones, especially that most trendy of devices the Apple iPhone.
    But you see the radical left, and I include the big five and even elements of Baen in that category, always live in a dream world spun from the artificial echo chambers their minds live in. E-books are common and cheap, therefore bad, and as such must be failing. So we cherry pick some numbers based on false assumptions and gleefully go “see right there, I told you so!”
    And they will continue to insist that they are right until the last over priced carpeted New York office of the last publishing house comes open for rent when the former occupant no longer exists.

    • caitliniwoods

      Millenial who reads books on her phone checking in!

      (I grew up copy-pasting fanfic into Notepad because the author thought red-on-plaid was a great color combination. Maybe I have lower standards of readability. 😉 )

  8. If Trad published ebook sales are down 17%, but all ebook sales are up 6% . . . Indies are having a really good year!

    • That was my takeaway. It’s trad-pubbed ebooks, which are priced above at or above the cost of a new paperback version – well, yeah. OF COURSE sales of those ebooks are sinking faster than the Lusitania. People who just want something interesting and diverting to read – OF Course they are likelier to take a chance on an indy author they have sampled and liked, and whose book is a quarter the price of the trad-pubbed ebook.
      All is proceeding as the Indy Author’s Guild predicted in 2008 or thereabouts.

      • paladin3001

        Ran across that a few years ago. I think it was the first book in Weber’s Safehold series. E-book was priced at $19 and the paperback at $12 (CAD). Easy choice there. As well there were also about three other books out in the series so it wasn’t like it was just the first one out there.

  9. Randy Wilde

    The author make the interesting observation that children’s books and cookbook sales haven’t transferred to digital as well as other genre

    I would rather have hardcopy versions of books that are illustration-intensive or that I’m going to be flipping around in, like a reference book. Other than that, I read on either my Fire tablet or one of my two e-ink Kindles.

    • I use my Kindle when cooking. (Although not with cookbooks up; with the latest neat recipe from the net.)

      Right there, I have the recipe – I have a timer – I have a calculator for figuring the more than four servings (which, with a Marine in the house, is about 3/4 of a serving just for him).

      On occasion, I’ll even have an Alton Brown video running for something I’ve not tried doing before.

      Now, I do have it sitting on the cookbook rack, pretty much out of the way of sizzles, pops, and the not so occasional “oopsie.”

    • snelson134

      Provided there’s a decent search capability, I want ALL my reference books electronic; I can have more available too.

  10. Let me see if I got this right? Us readers want trendy new gadgets, all the time. But we love them dead tree books because we can keep them around for a long, long time? We’s fickle, ain’t we?

  11. Whenever you read an article where you know something about the subject area, you find mistakes. Journalism on publishing appears to be no exception. Do you think they just re-write the publishers’ press releases?

  12. I don’t have a Kindle. I do have a phone, and a 10″ Lenovo tablet. I read on both of them. Actually, it’s great, I usually have two books going, one on each. I was reading Winston Churchill’s The River War (highly recommended) on one, and a bio of Churchill on the other recently. My teen daughters? Read a LOT on their phones, but rarely traditional books, mostly fan fiction on various sites. I did just recently introduce them to the ability to use the family Kindle account for reading, though.

    • Oh, and I forgot… I use the tablet as a cookbook all the time. Enough that I have the ‘go to sleep’ setting on it ridiculously long, so I can glance at it while working and not worry about touching it.

    • We have Kindle Fires, and Kindle Paperwhite, and Nook, and iPads, and can you tell that my husband is a sucker for a tech deal? (Aside from the iPads, which were gotten so the kids could do FaceTime with Grandma, none of these devices was anywhere near retail price.)

  13. I mean, I’m one of the biggest print book nerds because I like the way they look in my shelves and I like, um, smelling them (That’s not nearly as weird as it sounds). But even I’m starting to go over to ebooks these days. It’s just hard not to see the usefulness, and as a broke college student, the cheapness.

  14. Stanley Miller

    I’d love to have an actual Kindle rather than an app on Android but I have vision issues and when I get the text big enough to easily read the 6″ screen just has too little space and I spend all my time flipping pages. A 12 inch tablet is great for size (Samsung t-900) but the weight is a killer, dropping to a 10 inch S2 is a great size/weight compromise.

    I’m hoping for a revival of the Kindle 9″ DX form factor at some point.