Book Publishing

What Would Shakespeare Think of the E-book?

In 2008 Steve Jobs made the comment ‘no one reads any more’. As Jeff Bezos knows, that it not true. A recent Author Earnings report noted from 2016 to early 2017 Amazon sold over 487,298,000 electronic books. Assuming this was over a 15-month period, it equates to nearly 32.5million books a month. Clearly, people are reading whatever the man who had his finger on the pulse of the gadget market may have thought.

The argument between books and e-books

At a simplistic level, the two sides of the book or e-book debate could be categorized as young versus old. The breakdown of e-book purchases in 2018 would seem to support the theory. In the U.S., 65% of e-book purchases to date were made by people less than 49 years old and only 15% by the over 65 crowd.

But it is not so simple, the numbers involved are just too large. People over 65 are buying nearly 5 million e-books a month in the U.S. alone. Yet there are those would not buy an e-book, ever. There are those who would gladly kiss a book goodbye and retire to the beach to read their paper-white screen. There are people in between who do both.




E-books are good business

The profit margin on an e-book must be higher than a printed copy. There’s no print cost for a start, and authors have been squeezed to accept a lower royalty on an e-book. The only costs associated with it is storage and software costs. At first, at least as far as resellers are concerned, e-books are good business.

People still like books

For all the e-book was supposed to be the death knell of the book, the reality is a little different. Sales reached a high in 2014 and they have not reached those levels since, although they are getting closer. But in the same period, the Publishers Association reports an 8% increase in the sales of printed books.

And publishers blame screen fatigue

One of the factors blamed for this was ‘screen fatigue’ – the idea that we have had enough of looking at a screen all day for work, and all night to relax. This feels like a valid assessment; it a least makes sense. But then we hear of the voracious reader who heads off on vacation with 10 books on their e-reader. Even if you were driving somewhere on vacation you’d be unlikely to pack 10 books.

It is clearly more complicated

The numbers have proved everyone wrong at some level. None of the published numbers are especially clear. Every argument has its counter which is just as sensible. Hopefully, someone will break out the types of books. Are most e-books fiction? Are most print books textbooks or non-fiction? Are we seeing a huge societal value judgement in terms of sort of book we will pay extra so we can keep it forever?

For now, it appears to be a question of personal taste.