eBooks Are Big, but Printed Books Are Still Bigger

It’s not all doom and gloom for bookstores despite the news I woke up to Friday morning. I was awoken by CBC’s morning radio show host interviewing one of the co-owners of Flying Dragon Bookstore, an award-winning bookstore in Toronto, Canada. Saturday May 14, 2011 the Canadian Booksellers Association had named them Specialty Bookseller of the Year. Thursday May 19, 2011 they announced they would be closing. I was struck by fear and doubts about my future plans. If even a well-run, community-beloved bookstore such as Flying Dragon can close, what hope is there for my as-yet-unrealized bookstore?
Couple this with the announcement today that Amazon has sold 105 eBooks for every 100 print books sold since April 1 of this year, and it seems like a dim forecast for the future of the brick and mortar bookstore. Clearly you might surmise from these two pieces of information that people are abandoning the paper book at ever-greater speeds. Soon everyone will be locked into staring at a Kindle a Nook, a Kobo or some other eBook reader and all book sales will retire to the Internet, with never a glance back at the poor beleaguered bookseller in their brick-and-mortar store.
Fear not, though. According to an industry study I found, eBook sales as a whole, not solely on Amazon, account for only 14% of all books sold. That means that 76% of all book sales are still physical books. Worldwide. That’s still a whole lot of books on printed-paper that need to be sold, and who better to sell them than bookstores?
Beyond that, though, I have already stated in past articles numerous ways in which bookstores can keep up with technology, even use technology to their advantage in order to remain competitive with new and ongoing changes in the book industry. There is the possibility of setting up a print on demand service in order to be able to print public domain books or self-published books for a fee.
There is even the idea of embracing the technology and selling eBook readers in your store. Indigo, a Canadian bookstore chain, has partnered quite closely with Kobo and sells the Kobo reader in all their bookstores. They also sell the eBooks for Kobo’s through their website. This is an option that smaller bookstores are not locked out of, although it does place slightly more demand on the store’s web presence. (Which hopefully every store in this day and age would have already) With Google’s entry into the eBook market that will become a much simpler possibility for all bookstores. As the saying goes: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And no matter how advanced technology gets, people are still going to need to get the eBook reader and get set up on it. Why not get your store working on it on that level?
These are a few ideas for why bookstores don’t have to necessarily fear that the rise of eBooks will shut them down, but I think that to further allay the fears of booksellers, we would need more information on the numbers that Amazon is giving. What sorts of books are selling as eBooks as compared to paper books? Are they, for instance, selling 105 copies of the newest Dan Brown book for every 100 copies of it, or are they selling 105 out of print books that are not available as printed books and therefore the consumer has no choice but to buy a digital copy?
Are the 100 printed books for every 105 eBooks only books that are not available in digital format? I seriously doubt that is the case, because I guarantee that there are some people who will refuse to buy eBooks while there are printed alternatives. MP3s have been huge for over a decade now, but the record store still exists. There are, in fact, three amazing independent music stores within a 15-minute walk of my house. Even though iTunes is huge, and Amazon is selling digital music files by the (metaphorical) ton, there are still brick-and-mortar music stores.
I heard Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics, speak about digital comic books last October and he stated very succinctly that although DC publishes both print and digital comics, they are not looking to find out which is going to “win” and eliminate the other. They want both formats to succeed equally because there is, and always will be, a market for both. This is true for comic books and it is true for the normal printed book.

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  • My daughter now has a Kindle and swears by it (especially for her schoolbooks) however she says yes when I call from a used bookstore and ask if she wants me to pick up a book by one of her favorite authors that she does not have on her shelves.

    A lot of people out there have not given up one for the other and embrace both.

    Convenience says a lot too. I was reading, Gus the Great by Thomas W. Duncan and she expressed interest in it. Rather than wait for me to finish she was able to download it for free and start the book right away.

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  • We just opened up a ‘new’ used bookstore in a nice part of the San Diego area, and a lot ‘browsers’ are saying that they have a Kindle and are just checking out the new bookstore in town. We started this plan a year ago and may not have continued it, if it wasn’t so late, after hearing the stats for Christmas sales. It’s been an uphill road, so far; we opened the end of Feb. Not even making the rent is rough, let alone working retail 5-6 days and not being paid.

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  • My limited experience and unscientific observation in my little corner of the world is that older people (in their 80s) are buying e-readers and reading e-books. That demographic group is in de-acquisition mode. The vast range of middle-age readers, even those with e-readers, still read printed books, also, and many prefer them, while the young readers are “discovering” printed books and loving them.

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  • It’s not quite the same as flicking through pages skipping to a part of the book you want to read, but being able to carry thousands of books with you outweighs that negative. It’s great the pages don’t flap around in the wind also.

    eReaders will continue to get better, more robust with color screens and even better navigation so the future looks good for them. Physical books will never be entirely replaced though however.

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  • To th author of the article, you’re missing the bigger picture I think.

    You said ebook sales account for 14% (or somewhere around there) of book sales, so you said 76% are still printed books. But ebooks are brand new. Amazon has said it sells 105 ebooks for every 100 printed or hardcover it sells. Their Kindle just came out 3 and a half years ago-maybe 4. It’s not even 5 years old and already it’s outselling the printed versions. That’s the point. Printed books are great but personally, I wouldn’t depend on selling them for my livelyhood now.

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