Monday, July 26, 2010

I love it when I'm right

by Jane

Over the last several months – it could be as long as a year, actually – whenever I have met someone not in our industry who asks what I do and I tell them, I invariably get the question, “Is publishing going to survive.”  What they really mean is whether the business of book publishing will be able to survive the arrival of the digital book.

I have always maintained that the changes that reading books electronically will bring to the book publishing business can and will be very exciting.  In fact, I have been absolutely certain that as a result of these changes, reading overall would increase.

And then Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon announced that for the last three months, sales of books for its e-reader, the Kindle, outnumbered sales of hardcover books.  This news is really historic.

There was other news though that was just as exciting. According to the American Publishing Association, hardcover book sales were up industry-wide 22% this year.  Indeed, reading has been increasing, and I believe as more and more electronic reading devices are sold – and sales of these are way up as their prices have dropped – people will read more in all formats.

So, rather than being concerned that book publishing is going down the tubes, outside observers of our business should jump on the bandwagon and spread the word. This is only the beginning of a wonderful new digital publishing age. 

Do you all agree?


  1. Absolutely agree! That is great news. Fabulous books like "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, "The Passage" by Justin Cronin and even "Under The Dome" by Stephen King have helped boost the hardcover sales.

    Stephen King's book alone hit 900,000 sold, where his two previous hardcovers were just above half that.

    Great stories by great authors will continually fuel the market to a place where success is assured.

  2. I might also suggest that it's only the publishers who like the bulky and expensive hardcover. If paperbacks were available the same time, I think the paperback would win, but we still have to wait a year to get my preferred format. It's almost enough to make me buy an ereader -- because at least the ereader doesn't hurt my hands like hardcovers do.

    (I see hardcovers less like books and more like art. They look better on the shelf, but you don't want to have to actually hold it the hours it takes to finish reading the thing.)

  3. I don't understand why this is such a big deal. I mean, I understand why it's important. But it's like Kentucky Fried Chicken sending out a press release saying they're now selling more Double Downs than mashed potatoes.

    Well... so? You can get mashed potatoes anywhere, so people aren't going to rely on KFC to fill ALL their mashed potato needs. But if you want a Double Down, you can only get it at KFC.

    And I swear to god, this isn't an ad for KFC. I'm just like-- Amazon hasn't sold more "ebooks" than hardcovers. They've sold more proprietary Kindle files than hardcovers, which kinda makes sense, given that's the ONLY place you can get a Kindle file.

  4. Completely agree. Yay, reading is so good and just adding another way to do it has made it that much more popular. And a constant topic around the world.

  5. I completely agree. The eReaders are highly convenient and provide the opportunity for more people to read in times they otherwise may not be able to. A Kindle fits far better into a briefcase than a 600 page hardcover book does, and is a fraction of the weight. Even if there isn't room for the Kindle in the briefcase, there is always room for the iPhone, Android phone, or any phone with a free (often) eReader app. However, despite the popularity of eReaders, I think there is still something to be said about settling down with a good, well-loved book. This is a very basic comfort, one that I do not think will be lessened by the popularity of eReaders, but rather, enhanced by it.

  6. I had the same kind of reaction as Saundra. I understand that it sort of a big deal that ebooks are outselling hardcovers at Amazon, but I think it will be more of an earmark to look at the entire industry (lumping Apple's iBooks, BN's Nook ebook sales and any other medium) and comparing those to overall hardcover book sales. I think it will be a while yet before ebooks industry-wide outsell hardcovers.

    Though, I do admit, since purchasing my iPad, I've bought more books this year than I did last year (whereas last year, I read the same amount of books, I just would have gotten them from the library). You can't argue with the convenience of being able to finish one book and download a new one (at such low prices) in seconds.

    What I've noticed is that there is such a readily available selection of classics to download for free. Even before I had an iPad or knew what one was, I had a Classic Books app on my iPhone that gave me about twenty titles, all for free. I've wondered if the number of people reading the classics for fun (not as homework) would rise because of this.

  7. That totally makes sense, Jen! I have an e-reader, and I have had the same experience- since digital is cheap, I'm buying things I would have gotten at the library before, but I'm still buying the same amount of physical books as before.

    I think Amazon needs to tell us if Kindle sales are replacing or augmenting hardcover sales. Because if they sold 100 hardcovers and 70 Kindle books last year, but sold 100 hardcovers and 120 Kindle books this year- then it's a lateral extension of the traditional market rather than a replacement.

  8. This is HUGE news.

    I already watched this movie before in the 90s, when I worked for the major labels promoting alternative rock music for the BMG group. and file sharing was rapidly gaining traction, and the record labels treated it as the 800 pound gorilla in the room. No one wanted to address this new technology or embrace it.

    During that last "boom" in the mid 90s, we celebrated increased revenues every year and spent money like crazy. Lavish listening parties for new albums with boutique microbrew beverages and French food catered in to nice venues that were rented out and filled with a variety of local press, radio, and retail people who happily gobbled up the hors d'oeuvres.

    I kept trying to wake everyone up, but very few would listen. I was lucky that one of my own musical projects got "signed", and I was given a choice as to whether I wanted to take the deal, or continue working for the labels. I opted for the record deal, and even though I never broke through to be a "star", it was the right choice. 95% of the people I worked with at the labels in the 90s are now out of the business.

    It is the advancement of HARDWARE that is driving this new movement in the publishing world. E-Readers like the Kindle are the Sony Walkman of the new generation, the Apple I-pod of the new Literati.

    I am hopeful that publishers will have already learned this lesson from seeing the downfall of the major record labels, as those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    Be PROACTIVE and sign the writers to fair deals that include the e-publishing rights. Sign authors to "360 deals" that include all possible revenue streams from their work.

    This new technology is beautiful, and as soon as I can afford a Kindle, I will probably have one, and be happily carrying around as many of my favorite books as possible.

    For the traditionalists, I totally understand that you will always want to have a paper and ink book. I like them too. I love the sight of them, the smell of them, the entire gestalt that a BOOK inspires.

    But my 13 year old daughter doesn't care about that experience. All of her music is on her Ipod. She doesn't own any physical CDs, and lives on her mini laptop. She is the future. And most of us are dinosaurs in her world :-)

    Bobby DeVito

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