Co-existence of E-books and Print Books
For traditional publishers and print book lovers, the possibility of print books becoming obsolete is a scary thought. Industry reports and media news are constantly reporting that e-books will overturn print books, which will cease to exist in the future. However, many still support print books and believe they are able to coexist with e-books. Chief executive officer of American Booksellers Association (ABA), Oren Teicher, states that ABA believes print books are not going away, that nothing can replace the physical book (Long, 2011). This paper aims to show the great opportunity for both the e-book and the print book to co-exist by showing how statistics favour revenue sales from print books, how print books are still deeply embedded in people’s cultures, and how the dynamics of print books will change in order to adjust with the new form of reading technology. Print books are here to stay and this paper will attest to this.
Statistics show that e-book revenue sales are growing, yet they fail to take into account the percentage of print book sales. Last year, the Association of American Publishers surveyed publishers who reported an 8.3 percent increase of domestic net sales from e-books. About three months into 2011, publishers reported an increase of about 17 to 22 percent of e-book sales (Katz, 2011). There is no denying that e-book sales are growing. According to AAP Publishers’ March 2011 sales report, both print and e-book sales increased in revenue sales as compared to the previous year. Print book sales, specifically adult paperbacks, were the top-selling category of books at $115.9 Million, while e-books sold $69 Million at an increase of 145.7%. This report was published prior to the comprehensive Bookstats survey (Mullen, 2011). The statistics continually show the steady increase of e-book sales, yet industry analysts and readers should note that this increase coincides with the large amount of revenue gained from print book sales. E-book revenue in 2010 was $878 million in the US. This is a small figure compared to other publishing segments. While e-book sales are growing, the greatest portion of total sales in the industry belongs to print books. What shows potential is the rate at which e-book sales are growing (Agnello, 2011). Assumptions that the e-book will obliterate print books due to sales figures and statistics must be put to rest. These statistics show that although the growth of e-book revenues is steady, they are still a small portion of total book sales. Meanwhile, the Bookstats survey, a comprehensive statistical survey, showed promising results for both e-books and print books. US publishing results have grown annually. More books are selling and net sales are growing (Agnello, 2011). Books continue to sell in the North American market. No decline of print book sales has been noted. And, in spite of their tremendous growth, it will take years for e-books to equal print books in revenue (granted that the current rate of market growth is steady). People are still reading print books (Agnello, 2011). The growth of e-book sales has not caused any decline in print book sales, and the statistics prove it. Thus, the possibility of the coexistence of e-books and print books is looking much brighter than forecasted.
Statistics can be misinterpreted, causing the incorrect foreshadowing that e-books will eliminate print books. Shatzkin states “We don’t know if we’re going to find a barrier of resistance, or perhaps we should call it the barrier of ‘paper-insistence,’ at some sales level over the next two years (at the end of which ebooks would be 80% of publishers’ revenues at the growth rates we’ve seen over the past four years)” (2011). Shatzkin should probably take a closer look at the example of Amazon book sales. Amazon, a company that sells both print books and e-books, announced in May 2011 that they have been outselling their e-books more than their print books (Griggs, 2011). Their e-book sales are fostered by their in-house e-reader, Kindle. Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader in November 2007 and Kindle books sales exceeded hardcover book sales by July 2010. However, this only represents e-book sales in Amazon. If sales of books from brick-and-mortar stores and other websites are put into the equation, e-book sales only represent a small portion of total book sales (Griggs, 2011). Growth in e-book sales does not account for the current total book sales in the North American market. Cambridge University professor, John B. Thompson states that those who observe the industry see an increase in e-book sales and assume that the e-book revolution is impacting the book industry, when in fact the largest revenue sales are from print books (2010). Contrary to popular belief, there still remains a great possibility of the coexistence of print books and e-books, as seen in industry statistics.
Delving away from facts and figures, print books have always been deeply embedded in people’s cultures and traditions, which will not be going away soon. The possibility that e-books will dominate the book industry and eradicate print books altogether cannot easily wipe away decade’s worth of print book culture. Both readers and industry professionals worry about the threat of e-books to bookstores. However, in spite of the increase in e-book purchasing, many continue to buy books in paper. There continues to be a general resistance to change because some say that e-readers are not suited for them; “they love print books and don’t enjoy reading on a screen” (Katz, 2011). People love e-books and it is a cultural activity that they will continue to support. This ‘resistance to change’ will prove to be a strong support system whereby print books will continue to be supported by many around the world. Last year, the website, Mashable, conducted a poll, asking their readers if they prefer e-books or print books. Print books won with 41.9 percent of the votes, compared to 23.24 percent for e-books (Parr, 2010). The wide gap between the results shows that print books continue to dominate the book industry. The devotion to print books should not be taken for granted by those who easily believe in the print book decline. There is no agreement on whether the e-book will become the norm in the future. Thomson states that there will be a differentiation in the marketplace. Some readers believe that technology will eradicate many print forms, while some have reading deeply embedded in their values and culture. Technological change is dependent on several social and cultural contexts and there are numerous examples of technology that did not go anywhere, such as the CD-ROM (Cole, 2010). E-books can be considered an example of technological change that have the possibility of contributing value to the book industry, yet not necessarily changing the way people read. Similar to the CD-ROM, e-books also have the possibility of becoming a trend that might plateau given a few years. The general love and passion for print books is going strong and does not seem to be ebbing away. What is important is not to take a conclusive view of the future of the book, Thompson asserts. Technological commentators fail to see that books have such a deep cultural value in peoples’ lives and this is not going to go away anytime soon (2010).
Furthermore, e-books might even bring about positive change to the dynamics of print books and the book industry in general. At Book Expo America, the publishing industry’s annual trade show, proof of the longevity of the print book was seen as “a sense that print and electronic books are forming a new publishing ecosystem similar to the way radio and television coexist” (Long, 2011). Print books and e-books are changing the dynamics of the book industry in that they have the opportunity to coexist and get more people to read books. One good example would be the travel book publisher, Lonely Planet. It has sold more than 9.2 million downloads, yet its online sales in apps actually promote its print book sales, which are still growing (Long, 2011). E-books can actually promote the sale of print books. Stephanie Duncan, manager for Bloomsbury’s Library Online project, advocates the sale of digital books which are increasingly driving up book sales. She states that e-books are only a format, similar to paperbacks, and the joys of reading come in the content not the wrapper (McCrum, 2011). In this case, e-books and print books function to bring the joy of reading to all and they can do so hand in hand rather than against each other. Both books provide the pleasure and enjoyment of reading. While e-books are convenient and provide large storage, print books provide a better reading experience where readers can easily bookmark pages and display books. Both books offer their own benefits (Mohammed, 2010), and this is definitely an advantage to the purpose of reading. The unique advantages of both books will help in their growth in the industry simultaneously.
The dynamics of print books can also change in their function and presentation. Print books will exist in the future, yet they can possibly be used differently than they are now. Hopper believes that paper books will not vanish completely, but their function, in particular their purpose, will change. It will be a collectible. Printed books will be more sought-after, but not abundant in volumes anymore (Hopper, 2011). Print books can still exist, yet they will be regarded as collectibles, something worthwhile and valued by collectors, or in this case, print book lovers. The support for print books will be strong enough that they will not necessarily disappear but remain as collectibles. Print books can also be presented to the public in a different way in order to keep up with the changes in the industry. Publishers can offer a discounted bundle price for both the print book and the e-book, since there might be some demand for the bundle. Many publishers assume that readers will choose either the print book or the e-book; however, given the right bundled price, they may purchase both versions (Mohammed, 2010). The traditional publishing industry will thus need to work with e-books not merely to survive, but to thrive. Readers may purchase both the print book and the e-book if they are offered at a good price, thus maintaining the existence of print books. Although the dynamics will change in terms of their function and presentation, print books will continue to exist side by side with e-books in the book market.
The landscape of the book industry is ever-changing and with it comes new forms of technology, new forms of reading. The emergence of e-books is seen as a current threat to print books, yet industry analysts and the public need to see that the possibility that both will coexist in the future is strong. Print books will continue to live on because statistics show they are still garnering the largest portion of sales revenues, they are a part of people’s culture, and they can work with e-books to promote each other and reading in general. Although the dynamics of the function and presentation of print books might change, the business and support for them will continue to live on together with e-books.
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