The Future of Publishing

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two years ago my children gave me a Kindle for Christmas, and I was thrilled to be able to download a book and be reading it in minutes. But as we all know, technology doesn’t stand still When I bought a new cell phone some months ago, much to my surprise I had a Kindle App on it that allows me to sync my phone to my Kindle. This has been great for me because I can pull out my cell phone anytime and have all my downloaded books at my fingertips.

Of course for us who are struggling to make our mark in the publishing world, new technologies may have a downside. With the emergence of more e-books, publishers are experiencing a decline in sales of traditional books, and that leaves many in the industry wondering what the future holds.

The Association of American Publishers recently announced that after five months of dropping sales, November reported that religious book sales rose 5.1% to $852 million, up from 3.5% for the year. The Adult Hardcover category posted an end-of-the-year sales down by 1.4% from the previous year, while the Children’s /Youth category posted sales down by 6.6% for the year and Physical audiobooks down by 11.7%. However, the brightest spot in the report was that e-book sales continued to rise as it had all year, posting an increase of 129.7% to $46.6 million for the month and 165.6% for the year.

So, to me, the report appears to be mixed blessings. Religious books are up, others are down, but e-books have skyrocketed. With sales of traditional books down, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that all is not well in the industry. The news this week from Borders adds confirmation to the notion. With the announcement that Borders is having problems paying publishers, laying off workers, and possibly moving toward filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the publishing industry is being hit with more problems.

Last week executives from printers, publishers, and retailers gathered in New York to discuss the future of publishing. One of the things they acknowledged was that the retail market is hard to gauge. E-books that account for 10-15% of annual sales are recognized as an essential part of the future, but at the present the small revenues they generate have had an impact on downward revenues.

Even in the face of these reports and the fact that 80-90% of consumers still buy physical books, the industry is gearing up for the digital future as they invest in technology that will convert books, find means of guarding against piracy, and explore nontraditional ways of getting books into people’s hands.

The panel in New York concluded that over the next three years, there would be an increase in the number of e-books sold, but because of the lower price there would not be a rise in revenues. As writers, we have to ask ourselves what the future holds for us. Lower revenues will impact authors, and the gradual demise of the traditional book will be difficult for many readers.

How do you plan to face a digital future with books? As an author or as a reader, what do you think we need to do to face the changes that appear to be on their way? I’m really interested in your opinions.

8 comments:

S. Dionne Moore said...

The writing is on the wall, so to speak. I believe Christian publishers are going to have to embrace the idea of ebooks NOW. Putting the wording into an author's contract is one thing, jumping on board and getting the books put into digital format and out into the ebook market is another.

I think some will insist on the "experience" of having a book in their hands, but those are the hold-outs. With the advent of ebook readers and the iPad, not to mention the wave of tablets slated for release this year, there will be a whole new wave of these people coming to the conclusion that there is something to be said for a device that allows you to change the font, adjust the light. . .

My mother (84 this year) was just saying how she is trying to read my book but doesn't like to use the magnifying glass and the lighting has to be just right, else her eyes tire too easily. I so wish my books were available as ebooks for this very reason. I hope she was able to read the dedication page, because it was to her! :)

PamelaTracy said...

I do love my Kindle, and I realize that ebooks bring in less revenue, but they cost less to produce, too, so eventually, if the numbers rise, won't it balance out?

S. Dionne Moore said...

Makes sense to me, Pamela. I think part of the beauty of charging less for an ebook is because there isn't as much overhead.

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

I admit...I've held out purchasing a Kindle because as an author, it felt kinda like hastening my demise. Fewer books = fewer authors, right? But is it really eBooks that are to blame?

Victoria Bylin said...

and it's cheaper than buying used. Even the books that cost a penny require shipping and handling.

I also see an opportunity for books that don't fit the traditional publishing mold.

On the downside, I'm worried the pool of books will become a thousand miles in diameter and less than an inch deep. Where's the quality control? If an author's ability to promote his/her work replaces the screening that comes from traditional publishers, we could see a lessening in quality . . . but then again, we could also see some out-of-the-box stories.

Lyn Cote said...

I don't know how this is all going to shake out but I'm paddling like mad to keep my nose above water!

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

I absolutely agree, Victoria. I'm all for new trends, I just don't want to see everybody and anybody throwing stuff out there just for the sake of publishing. I know eBooks still go through edits, when they are put out by reputable publishers, that is, but what about others? Self-publishing can be a bad trap if you go with someone who leaves all of the editing up to you--eBooks will be no different IMHO.

Carole said...

I'm an avid reader and a big part of my books are Christian fiction. I bought my first Kindle almost two years when preparing to visit my missionary daughter in Germany, as I could pack no books. While it was immediate love, I still had lots of books on my shelves and I also use the library. Now I find myself wanting to use my new Kindle3 entirely because it is so much easier to read. I just wish that Christian publishers would make more books available as eBooks, especially Barbour.

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