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The shifting landscape for books

Posted December 2nd, 2011 by

A question for you: how have your reading habits changed over the past few years?

When my first book, Inheriting the Trade, came out almost four years ago, it was initially available in hardcover and audio formats. Within a year it became available in softcover and digital editions. The softcover is the preferred version for reading clubs and is now in its second printing.

The digital launch of Inheriting the Trade was pretty low-key. How things have changed in four short years. EBooks have become the fastest growing segment of the publishing world. According to the American Association of Publishers, eBook sales in August 2011 were up 116.5% over August 2010. Sales of hardcover books in the same time period were down 11.2%; softcover sales were down 5.7%. The one other bright spot in book sales was for downloaded audio: up 30.2%.

When Sharon and I met with the marketing and publicity team at Beacon Press in late October regarding next year’s publication of Gather at the Table, they made a point of letting us know that our book will be available digitally right from the start.

Sales of Amazon’s Kindle readers quadrupled on Black Friday this year compared with 2010. Barnes and Noble experienced a loss in the third quarter this year due to the decline in the sale of physical books. They plan to invest more heavily in their Nook e-book reader and digital media.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you own a digital reader? How do you like it? If you don’t own one, why not? Personally, I haven’t invested in one yet. Until recently I never even considered it. Now, I’ll be surprised if I don’t have one by the time Gather at the Table is published next October…

6 responses to “The shifting landscape for books”

  1. I once said that as a serious writer, I would never be able to use a computer, and I soon got over that (belatedly, compared to my peers), and now wonder how I was able to tolerate working on a typewriter. That said, as a book collector, and a visual-kinetic learner who has to touch and see what I'm reading, I can't imagine finding enjoyment in an e-book. My four books have been published in paper and as e-books, and this does mean increased royalty checks, and so I'm glad others find these gizmos useful. But they aren't for me.

  2. Crissie says:

    As a wanna-be book artist, an avid reader of books (the cover and paper kind), I've been thinking about this for some time now. I've been in a training program that requires reading, is residential/out-of-state, and I am unable to bring all the books along with me that I'd like to have with me. I don't have an e-book reader but admit that were one given to me as a gift, I'd find some uses for it – (downloading the books for class when I travel?) though I can't imagine how I would transfer my notes and underlinings and scribblings from one format to another.

    I love the smell of books, the sensuality of books. I love holding a book in my hand.

    I do not like the way US publishers printing books to hardback first (couldn't they offer both right off the bat?) – I no longer like hardbacks – the e-book would allow me to read the book sooner…

  3. Michelle Jackson-Lon says:

    I love to feel, smell and hold a book. I spend too much time on a computer screen during the day to want to come home and look at another one. I know that eventually I'll probably have to fold and get one too, but until then, I will continue my love affair with the real deal.

  4. I have long been a lover of technology and figured out early on how the flow writing – for me – was easier to access and certainly easier on my fingers and hands than using a typewriter (I never was a long-hander!). For me the issue is more the message, less the medium. I don't currently own a reader but only because my reading time is so minimized due to my writing time that I haven't made the time to go get one! But I'm sure I will. Because as a lover of words, I LOVE the idea of thinking of a book and immediately being able to download it and start reading it at the drop of a hat. Seems like such a win/win to both the reader and the author (and the publisher!).

    I think change is always strange to master and embrace but it does ultimately find its place at the table. Long ago I made a big point of saying I'd never stop getting my daily paper in lieu of internet news. Then I slowly, over time, realized I was opening my computer before I opened my paper in the morning and before long realized by the time I got to my paper I'd already read – in more current versions – the news of the day. When my trusty newspaper finally told me they were halting their "vacation stop" policy and I'd have to pay for the paper even when I was out of town and not getting it (a feature I'd used and loved for decades) I knew it was time to let go. I cancelled my subscription and it's rare that I miss it (though I do on Sunday mornings!).

    As for books, I was a TV-less child and an avid reader and like Crissie above loved the smell and feel of books. My father would bring home huge boxes of books from the library every summer and my sisters and I approached those as if they were treasure chests…nothing was better. But over time, I found I was reading fewer hard covers and more paperbacks and they already seem less precious in terms of form. Ultimately it's the story I'm in love with, the words, the imagination, the artistry; not the medium. At this point, while I understand the weariness of some after being on a computer all day, I find myself falling more and more in love with my computer (I do have the latest state-of-art MAC and there is nothing quite as swift or elegant!). It is my gateway to so much in my life – my work, writing, photography, marketing, communication, entertainment, news, etc. – and I see it as much like a treasure chest as that box of books.

    So yes, I'm sure I will get a reader. I'll likely get the iPad, because I like the color screen, the size and the ease of MAC technology. And when I travel I will no longer need that hefty, unwieldy bag of paperbacks I typically take with me…that will be a nice bonus!

    Good question; good point!

  5. As a parent of a young child, I love being able to download material onto my iPod Touch and read or listen at odd times and places. Lately I've spent hours standing around at the local skate park. So far I've been listening to iTunes U lectures, but I've just downloaded a bunch of books from the library (yes you can "borrow" digital books, some anyway – at least from the Seattle library!) and expect to be reading at the skate park soon. I like books more, but I can't get to them nearly as often as I can my iPod.

  6. Prinny says:

    I love books – hard cover, soft cover and electronic. My library has a mix. I buy hard copy books if they're on a topic in my library or if I'm collecting that author. But e-books are a blessing because I travel for work. The number of books I "need" to take on a 3-week trip to a non-English-speaking country does not fit in a suitcase or within the airlines' baggage weight restrictions. The electrons weigh so little that I can take material for evey possible moment – serious reading, escapism … I will buy a hard copy of "Gathering at the Table" for my library, but my next Inspector Lynley mystery will be electronic!

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