The Myth About Print Coming Back (Updated)

“When I read mainstream outlets on publishing industry issues (such as The New York Times or The Guardian), few things are more frustrating than articles that tout the ‘resurgence’ of print—as well as the related ‘comeback’ of independent bookstores. Most of it is wishful thinking rather than an understanding of what’s actually happening. Here are the recent data points you should know about.

The ebook sales decline (to the extent it’s real) relates to traditional publishing and its high ebook pricing.

As you can tell from Nielsen’s graph above (which tracks sales of titles with ISBNs), the flattening of ebook sales started happening back in 2013. However, this decline is attributable to higher ebook prices from traditional publishers. Jonathan Stolper (formerly of Nielsen) said at Digital Book World in January 2017, ‘Price is the most important and most influential barrier to entry for ebook buyers and the increase in price coincided with the decrease in sales.’

If print is indeed is ‘back,’ it’s because of Amazon. Since 2013, the traditional book publishing industry has enjoyed about a 3% increase in print book sales. However, print book sales grew largely because Amazon sold more print books. Barnes & Noble’s sales declined by 6% in 2016, and sales from mass merchandisers (Target, Walmart, etc.) also declined. But reports estimate that Amazon’s print sales in 2016 grew by 15%, primarily driven by their own discounting. (Their ebook sales are believed to have increased about 4%.)”

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