Ebooks. They’re a hot topic these days, especially in the literary world. Many of you may have heard that ebook sales have fallen by 10% this past year as the American Association of Publishers claims (newyorktimes.com). However, it isn’t as clear-cut as that. The truth is that ebook sales are doing better than ever. The only difference is whose ebooks are selling.
The AAP reports sales for only 1,200 publishers. Their claim that fewer ebooks are selling reflects only their own loss, not everyone else’s. It doesn’t account for self-published ebooks or Amazon imprints, which “make up 58% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in the US” (authorearnings.com). Sales for these ebooks are increasing, and they have been for years. This isn’t something that big publishers are happy about; it’s something that scares them.
How did this happen? Basically, it all breaks down to money. In 2010, big publishers were finally allowed to set prices for their own books, not Amazon. It seemed like a good plan for them at the time, but it has had drastic effects since. Many ebooks from Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster) are about equal in price to their paperback counterparts. Readers aren’t going to pay the same price for a digital book as they would for a print one, especially when studies show that many of these readers prefer reading in print (washingtonpost.com). Self-published ebooks, on the other hand, are usually sold for $0.99 to $2.99 and are often free for a period of time. Independent publishers tend to sell their ebooks for around $6.99, which is still half the cost of a print book.
The publishing industry is changing. More and more people are choosing to self-publish, meaning that there are more books flooding the market. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it eliminates some of the barriers that prevent great books from being published. However, it’s also bad because it makes it harder for authors to make a living off their writing. Ebooks are priced so low in an effort to draw in sales, but the price is too low to make a large profit unless the book turns into a bestseller, which is only a low percentage of the hundreds of books released every day.
In the end, what can be done? Well, not much. New technologies tend to overtake and change existing systems. Remember newspapers? Magazines? Many have declared bankruptcy or started online-only editions. It’s simply too hard to stay the same in a world of change.
So how will the publishing industry look in ten years? No one knows. What’s for certain is that ebooks have and will continue to have a great effect on it. The publishing industry will not die, it will simply need to learn to adapt.