Two years ago my children gave me a Kindle for Christmas, and I was thrilled to be able to download a book and be reading it in minutes. But as we all know, technology doesn’t stand still When I bought a new cell phone some months ago, much to my surprise I had a Kindle App on it that allows me to sync my phone to my Kindle. This has been great for me because I can pull out my cell phone anytime and have all my downloaded books at my fingertips.
Of course for us who are struggling to make our mark in the publishing world, new technologies may have a downside. With the emergence of more e-books, publishers are experiencing a decline in sales of traditional books, and that leaves many in the industry wondering what the future holds.
The Association of American Publishers recently announced that after five months of dropping sales, November reported that religious book sales rose 5.1% to $852 million, up from 3.5% for the year. The Adult Hardcover category posted an end-of-the-year sales down by 1.4% from the previous year, while the Children’s /Youth category posted sales down by 6.6% for the year and Physical audiobooks down by 11.7%. However, the brightest spot in the report was that e-book sales continued to rise as it had all year, posting an increase of 129.7% to $46.6 million for the month and 165.6% for the year.
So, to me, the report appears to be mixed blessings. Religious books are up, others are down, but e-books have skyrocketed. With sales of traditional books down, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that all is not well in the industry. The news this week from Borders adds confirmation to the notion. With the announcement that Borders is having problems paying publishers, laying off workers, and possibly moving toward filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the publishing industry is being hit with more problems.
Last week executives from printers, publishers, and retailers gathered in New York to discuss the future of publishing. One of the things they acknowledged was that the retail market is hard to gauge. E-books that account for 10-15% of annual sales are recognized as an essential part of the future, but at the present the small revenues they generate have had an impact on downward revenues.
Even in the face of these reports and the fact that 80-90% of consumers still buy physical books, the industry is gearing up for the digital future as they invest in technology that will convert books, find means of guarding against piracy, and explore nontraditional ways of getting books into people’s hands.
The panel in New York concluded that over the next three years, there would be an increase in the number of e-books sold, but because of the lower price there would not be a rise in revenues. As writers, we have to ask ourselves what the future holds for us. Lower revenues will impact authors, and the gradual demise of the traditional book will be difficult for many readers.
How do you plan to face a digital future with books? As an author or as a reader, what do you think we need to do to face the changes that appear to be on their way? I’m really interested in your opinions.