Join us each Friday for a live #FutureChat with The FutureBook digital community at 4 p.m. London (GMT), 5 p.m. Rome, 11 a.m. New York, 8 a.m. Los Angeles.
Could ebooks and print be friends instead of enemies? Having heralded The noise and fury -- where he wrote, "Booksellers are back! The print book is on the rise! The ebook is dead!" -- The Bookseller editor Philip Jones then returned Friday with classic irony in Surprise, surprise:
Defying what we sometimes read in the wider media, the ebook sector (from what we can tell from the figures supplied by the major publishers) continued to outperform print, with average growth of 15%. If the experience in the US is an accurate pointer, it will be the last year we can say this, but with a market size of around £350 million, this fledgling is now dug in. In fact, across print and digital it is likely that the book market grew in 2014, as it did in 2012. Digital has worked for the book business.
And in the walkup to our #FutureChat on Friday, we'd used the report made by Nielsen Book's Jonathan Nowell at Digital Book World in New York, along with The Bookseller's coverage to point out some interesting language in the debate. A few salient phrases:
Print and digital help the book market...the changing mix of what sells...the decline in print sales predates the ebook...
What we're hearing comes not only from two different but similarly tracked markets -- the US and UK -- but also from a gradually proliferating set of viewpoints. (What? You mean publishing people don't agree on something?) It's just not as simple as some might have expected (or, ahem, wanted): All print isn't being steam rolled by digital. And all sectors aren't flowering in a print revival. No, as usual, publishing is more complicated than that. And it becomes a lot easier in the light of these reports and observations to understand why our choirs are antiphonal on these points.
- If you're in romance (that is to say if you're in the genre, not in luv), then you think all the world has gone ebooking, baby. Digital shirtless men kissing e-beautiful women.
- But if you're in religion books, you've seen a 43-percent gain in print. And you keep your shirt on.
Jones has the positive take on this:
If I were to look for a theme from all this, I would say that publishing is better than what it was, informed by a closer understanding of what works in each channel—or as PRH UK boss Tom Weldon said last week, “greater visibility into what influences readers”—a rekindled relationship with booksellers and a more flexible approach to authors.
In other words, what we seem to be learning is that genre- and audience-specific approaches make more sense than ever because we're looking at a market that walks one direction for one kind of work and another direction for another. Indeed, Jones is pointing out that in the UK, the biggest houses weren't the ones with the biggest hits in 2014.
At 43.9% the Big Three’s share of Nielsen BookScan’s Total Consumer Market is at its lowest since records began (in 2001), with each of Penguin Random House, Hachette and HarperCollins declining faster than the overall print market (the latter only by a whisker). The big winner was Pan Macmillan—up 9.8%, a remarkable performance since it had no bestsellers in 2014’s overall Top 50 (published last week)—with Lonely Planet and Faber also performing creditably.
So while some are out in the street to welcome what they think is our warm-and-fuzzy return to paper, others are heading off to create new digital publishing houses.
And what Nowell, Jones, and the markets on both sides of the reading pond may be telling us is that everybody's right. Or everybody's wrong (it is Monday, after all).
The industry! the industry! loves nothing more than a good, hard, simplistic line to carry everyone into the cubicles each day. But the numbers just aren't making it that easy. No, we're going to have to slog it out through the Swamp of On the Other Hand. I recommend Campari in that flask.
When we put all this to The FutureBook's digital community in #FutureChat, what we got was another interesting and abiding tendency among the bookish: the rush to personal anecdote. Notice that audiobooks quickly came into the conversation, an element of digital not specifically represented in much of the recent research reporting we'd covered. And some interesting experience is represented here, too.
If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that our discussion group of publishing people leans to the digital side. Bring along as big a grain of salt as you like, but I say it's interesting if folks in the biz -- from whose "cold, dead hands" you might expect to have to pry those hardbacks, Mr. Heston -- are pretty readily trotting over to the e-side.
Our thanks to all who participated -- here are some of the fast-flying tweets.
And if you want to rile your print-loving buddies, check out Paris Marx's comment about how "print books are more like decorations, while ebooks are the ones I actually read."
Some of the most e-worthy books flounder w/out print. @elliesoderstrom produced a trans-media ebook that's succeeding in print. #FutureChat — lancelot schaubert (@lanceschaubert) January 16, 2015
It's an awesome project we did together, but needed print to find its audience. @elliesoderstrom #FutureBook — lancelot schaubert (@lanceschaubert) January 16, 2015
Running into the same problems with photonovels. @9artphoto @elliesoderstrom #FutureChat #FutureBook #joplinphotonovel — lancelot schaubert (@lanceschaubert) January 16, 2015
Pls clarify, Romance looks huge, but charts ignore x-over of mystery, thriller, detective, no? #futurechat — jlshear (@Jeff_Shear) January 16, 2015
Print sales in Switzerland = vital part of my network + preparing ground for translation #FutureChat — JJ Marsh (@JJMarsh1) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson I'm in Zürich, with an incredibly supportive bookshop/network. Here, print/ebooks: 50:50. #FutureChat — JJ Marsh (@JJMarsh1) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @thebookseller @TheFutureBook Not sure how relevant e-sales numbers are because of expense of ISBNs in UK. — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 16, 2015
As an indie author, I can't really compare. But as a reader, can say I buy way more books again, with ebooks. #futurechat — Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) January 16, 2015
@camillelaguire I agree Camille, all our family reading is electronic these days. Wife uses Kindle paperwhite, I use iPad, phone #FutureChat — David Neal (@WalrusWinks) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson Most people I know are big on the ebooks. They see it as a easy way to fit reading in between the rest of life. #futurechat — CMRiordan (@olivewildly) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson Definitely. I wonder if geography plays a part. When lived in NYC, people loved print for on public transport. #futurechat — CMRiordan (@olivewildly) January 16, 2015
I don't know about the market in general, but in spite of my love for print, ebooks have largely taken over my reading world! #futurechat — Dana Britt (@Dana_Britt) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson I only buy print as more collector's item. (And yes, just now, mostly rare and out of print - but not only). #futurechat — Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) January 16, 2015
A pop. Kickstarted (throwback!) reward is to have a beautiful physical copy paired with an ebook. @Porter_Anderson #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 16, 2015
.Chris_C_Weber Hey, Chris, welcome! Yes, indeed, I know that many #crowdfunding efforts use print in rewards. #FutureChat via Porter_Ande... — Crowdfund Spirit (@CrowdfundSpirit) January 16, 2015
I think there's plenty of room for both--some books, such as many nonfiction and art books, will always be in print demand #futurechat — Dana Britt (@Dana_Britt) January 16, 2015
@Jeff_Shear #FutureChat A recent guest on @thecreativepenn podcast said audio share is constant at about 10% . (Hugh McGuire, I think.) — Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas) January 16, 2015
@StonehamPress For me, it's the narrator's voice. I'm too picky. The wrong voice pulls me out of the story. #audiobooks #futurechat — CMRiordan (@olivewildly) January 16, 2015
Genre reading is by far the biggest driver of ebooks for our authors. It helps them stay top-of-mind w/ readers @Porter_Anderson #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 16, 2015
@Jeff_Shear @StonehamPress #FutureChat I can get audiobooks from the library via @Overdrive -- it's good! — Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson #FutureChat Yeah, we're hanging onto gov't support for culture, but just by the skin of our teeth! :) — Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas) January 16, 2015
@WalrusWinks #futurechat Does tend to be seen as for old and blind people. Unfair, but changing. — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 16, 2015
@StonehamPress @Porter_Anderson Amazon's got just the service for you Tim! All the audiobooks you can take. #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 16, 2015
@CarlaJDouglas @Jeff_Shear @thecreativepenn I can say that I never listened to audiobooks before Whispersync. #futurechat — Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) January 16, 2015
Maybe paper'll go the way of vinyl and have an artistic renaissance. @Porter_Anderson @camillelaguire #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 16, 2015
@WalrusWinks @Porter_Anderson @thecreativepenn Still have 14 boxes of books to unpack. #FutureChat — Suw (@Suw) January 16, 2015
@WalrusWinks @Porter_Anderson @thecreativepenn We still don’t have any bookshelves. :( #FutureChat I’d find it hard to part with my books — Suw (@Suw) January 16, 2015
Had to get rid of so many print books when I downsized. If they'd all been on my ereader.. #futurechat — Carol Cooper (@DrCarolCooper) January 16, 2015
@CarlaJDouglas @Jeff_Shear @StonehamPress My library offers movies, audio books, and CDs via Hoopla. Haven't tried it - yet. #futurechat — Julia Karr (@juliaakarr) January 16, 2015
I prefer radio plays to audiobooks. #futurechat The best take into account that you will probably be doing something else while listening. — Chris Lynch (@chrislynch_mwm) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @CarlaJDouglas Yep! It's what has turned my dad from a 1bk a yr to 40+ bks. He listens when driving. #futurechat — CMRiordan (@olivewildly) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @olivewildly and those who run but hate it. Desire to hear more of book gets me moving. At least a book/week. #FutureChat — Ashley Gordon (@MockingbirdPub) January 16, 2015
@camillelaguire #futurechat Just a shame that audiobooks are so tied up by Amazon. — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 16, 2015
@camillelaguire @StonehamPress I think there's an opportunity for indie audio. But reaching listeners outside Audible is hard #futurechat — Caleb Woodbridge (@CalebWoodbridge) January 16, 2015
@camillelaguire @StonehamPress For cult sci-fi audio, @bigfinish have done a great job selling direct & bundling CD/downloads #futurechat — Caleb Woodbridge (@CalebWoodbridge) January 16, 2015
@camillelaguire #futurechat Not sure an indie audio platform would be strong enough to survive. Needs a big publishing company as well. — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson Plus paperbacks are beautiful. A wall of books is a wealth of conversations. #FutureChat — JJ Marsh (@JJMarsh1) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson A lot of my books simply aren’t available as ebooks, esp the Welsh titles. #FutureChat — Suw (@Suw) January 16, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @JJMarsh1 these days i feel print books are more like decorations, while ebooks are the ones i actually read. #futurechat — Paris Marx (@parismarx) January 16, 2015
@Suw @Porter_Anderson @parismarx @JJMarsh1 I have a collection of my own v bad photos of 'books as decor'. Airport restaurants mainly. — Kate Pullinger (@katepullinger) January 16, 2015
@parismarx @Porter_Anderson @JJMarsh1 #futurechat I don’t need decoration - I just need brain food! — Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) January 16, 2015
A physical book I enjoyed will always have a place on my shelves. It's like a photo album of an adventure. #futurechat — JJ Marsh (@JJMarsh1) January 16, 2015
@thecreativepenn @Porter_Anderson @JJMarsh1 if i had a perma-home, i'd probably buy a few of my faves for decor, but only read e #futurechat — Paris Marx (@parismarx) January 16, 2015
@katepullinger @Porter_Anderson @parismarx @JJMarsh1 Saw some recently that were glued down… #FutureChat — Suw (@Suw) January 16, 2015
Eek @Suw glued??? *shudders* #futurechat — Carol Cooper (@DrCarolCooper) January 16, 2015
@DrCarolCooper It was a design museum. Literally everything was glued down. #FutureChat — Suw (@Suw) January 16, 2015
.@parismarx @thecreativepenn @Porter_Anderson @JJMarsh1 I know it's silly but guides and how tos I prefer print #futurechat — Miral Sattar (@miralsattar) January 16, 2015
Speaking of which, business books and references are often the only thing i buy in print. For flippability @Porter_Anderson #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 16, 2015
@Chris_C_Weber #futurechat Who are you flipping them at? — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 16, 2015
@StonehamPress My wife, when her books start to encroach on my books' side of the bookcase! #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 16, 2015
Main image - Shutterstock: Adam Radosavlijevic