What is the truth?

No, this isn’t a political post. I am doing my best to stay away from them for the moment. Otherwise, my poor wall won’t survive my head being beaten against it. However, much like the political scene, publishing insiders and commentators are telling us that traditional publishing is making a comeback. E-book consumption is on the decline and soon all will be right with the publishing world. We have a PEW report telling us that the number of e-book readers hasn’t changed since 2014. But, does that give us the complete picture?

When I saw the PEW report, my first response was to ask how they gathered their information. Who did they ask? Then, because I have an inherent distrust of most polls, I wanted to see the questions asked. While I haven’t seen the actual poll questions, the results are interesting and all that surprising — and I question the actual results because, like any poll, results can be manipulated in so many ways to meet the desires of the pollster.

That said, is anyone surprised to find that college graduates are more likely to read, and especially read e-books, than those who did not graduate from high school? Are you surprised to find that 20-somethings are more likely to read an e-book or listen to an audio book than someone over 65? Frankly, that’s common sense, at least as far as I’m concerned.

However, what is interesting are a couple of articles that have come out since the PEW report. The first comes from Publisher’s Weekly. So far, 2016 has been a bust for the Big 5 publishers. For the first half of the year, none showed a sales increase over this time last year. Harper Collins, with only a slight decrease, fared better than the others. When you look at the reports and comments coming from these publishers, you see a lot about how they increased “profit”. Yet, when you study the fine print, you can see that revenue did not increase. What changed was how money was managed — staff cuts, etc. When that is all that makes your company anything close to profitable, especially when you sell product of any sort, is money management and not revenue from sales, you have a problem. Whether traditional publishing will ever start asking themselves the really hard questions about what titles they acquire, how the acquire them and then how they market them — and who their market is — remains to be seen.

The second article that caught my eye came out a couple of days ago. Bloomberg takes a look at whether we are seeing a return to print. There is a great deal of interesting information in the article but the key, to me, is in the last paragraph:

Today that market is the territory of aspiring to moderately successful writers of romance, mystery, science-fiction and fantasy novels and a fan base of dedicated readers who consume such work in mass quantities. It probably won’t stay hemmed in like that, though. It’s getting easier and easier for successful digital-first authors to move into print and even bookstores without the help of a publisher, and the spread of e-book reading from dedicated devices such as the Kindle to tablets and smartphones (22 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 read books on their phones, according to the Pew survey) seems to offer new opportunities for those who get the format and pricing right. In short, the e-book story probably isn’t over yet — and book publishers aren’t helping themselves by acting as it if were.

Most especially, the last phrase of the paragraph tells the story. The big 5 act as if the e-book revolution is over and it lost. Indie authors and small presses are proving that belief to be false. Who wins? In my opinion, authors and readers win — but for how long? The answer comes down to one thing and it is something I hope doesn’t happen: increased governmental regulation of e-books and indie authors in an attempt to “save” traditional publishing. So far, the government hasn’t stepped in, at least not too much. Hopefully, that trend continues.


  1. It’s foolish to try to gauge ebook reading by reader sales.

    Besides reading on the phone, how many readers does one person need? One is fine for me, purchased four or five years ago.

    How many ebooks does one person need? I dunno, how many can I get?

    1. I know. That’s why I always look at such polls with a jaundiced eye. I read some on my phone but I also read on my tablet and on my Kindle Paperwhite. But, of those, the tablet is at least 3 or 4 years old. My phone is 2 years old and the Paperwihite I bought last year. The PW is the only ereader. So I’ve already blown their numbers, especially since it is the one I read on least — bought it for travel.

    1. Yep. Sad thing is, I’ve seen several surveys in the last year or so that use this same flawed methodology. Yet the traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, continue to grasp at the results, touting them as proving e-books are not nearly as popular as they are.

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