Ebook Sales Have Been Slumping since 2015

March 16, 2018

As we saw yesterday with the sad state of Toys ‘R’ Us, the last few years have not been kind to brick-and-mortar retailers. The rise of online commerce has encouraged an increasing number of consumers to do their shopping at home, leaving many companies worried that they could be the next to go under. But while this is a new feeling for some, others like independent bookstore owners have had to deal with such fears for a long time. After all, industry experts predicted years ago that the introduction of ebooks would eventually make these small operations obsolete.

Flash forward to the present, however, and the ebook’s total takeover has yet to occur. In fact, sales of digital books have been in a slump since late 2015, falling from about 21 percent of the total market to just 17 percent a year later. This decline in ebook sales has also corresponded with a drop in e-reader ownership. In 2013 a survey by Pew Research Center found that 30 percent of adult Americans owned an e-reading device. Two years later, that number fell to 19 percent. Meanwhile, sales of paperbacks, hardcovers and audiobooks have remained steady among major publishers during this same period. 2016’s hardcover sales even exceeded ebooks for the first time in five years.

Analysts attribute this drop in popularity to both increased prices for digital titles as well as changing habits among readers. Store owners, on the other hand, have learned that most consumers don’t choose exclusively between either electronic or analog books. “Five or six years ago, there was widespread panic that digital reading would take over our business,” said American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher. “The projection that it would be an either-or proposition has turned out not to be true. Customers who buy books are also reading digitally.” So while ebook sales should improve at some point, bookstore owners think there will be enough room in the market for both digital and physical titles to thrive.  

Questions:

  1. Why did experts predict that the introduction of ebooks would cause bookstores to close?
  2. Do you think ebook sales could eventually take over the entire market? Why or why not?

Source: Michael Hiltzik, “No, Ebooks Aren’t Dying — but Their Quest to Dominate the Reading World Has Hit a Speed Bump,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2017.

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