Books Report: Despite E-Books' Swift Rise, Print Still Dominates Market

Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

Books Report: Despite E-Books' Swift Rise, Print Still Dominates Market


Amazon's now selling more e-books for its Kindle e-reader than paperbacks or hardcovers. Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader is making gains. Bankrupt Borders is closing brick-and-mortar stores. Yet there's surprising life left between physical books' covers.

Providing insight into print and e-books' standing are the following excerpts from the Trib's phone conversation with Kelly Gallagher. He's vice president, publisher services, for New Providence, N.J.-based R.R. Bowker (bowker.com), which conducts market research for publishers and traces its more-than-130-year history to Publishers Weekly's founding.

On e-books' pros and cons:

Obviously there is this "e-nirvana" that awaits publishers, where ... all things "e" make their lives much simpler; they focus less on supply chain management and more on content development. ... (T)here's savings to be had (with e-books) and the profitability is certainly there ... yet nobody wants to walk away from a world that still has 20 percent hardcover print books that people demand, and so ... publishers will become more profitable with "e," but the challenge of how they get there is a real big issue. ... And the bet that retail and publishing are taking is that ... people ultimately will buy more. At this point, we see it as more units, but because of (e-books') lower price point and not significantly more units, we see more cannibalization going on, or substitution purchasing, vs. them suddenly now buying twice as much as they used to buy in print.

On music-industry analogies:

Who in the world would have been caught dead with a cassette when CD came out? So literally, the new technology "obsoleted" the old technology. I don't see that happening with books. Print books are still a very good hardware device. You can drop them in the ocean and they don't short out, they don't run out of battery life and, you know, they still are ... and will always be a very functional way of communicating concepts, content and ideas.

On e-books in the overall market:

We're definitely on the sharp side of ... the curve right now, so (e-books) will continue to grow, but ... 86 percent of all titles sold today are in print. ... Textbooks, college textbooks and business books ... have had a much slower uptick because of the technology and even just the reluctance of the potential buyer to want to engage digitally. ... (I)t's very hard to still take notes in e-books, it's not the easiest thing to flip from section to section or page to page. ... For the younger generation ... they're just not used to learning in that environment, so we really can't assume, just because they're technology junkies, that they want to learn that way, too. ... We're beginning to see some signs, especially in a study we did just recently of young adults, of "digital fatigue." ... When we say that young adults don't read, well, it's just that they don't read what we want them to buy, but literally their whole day is spent reading -- text messages, Facebook -- they read more than we ever dreamed or ever did ... when we were their age. ... But the reality is that they're reading all the time, and so those that do like to read, actually we still see that they have a strong preference for print, because they're just digitally tired and they see a special comfort in print books, that it's nice to just unplug for them for a while.

On which e-reader has the upper hand:

Well, certainly the Kindle does ... they were first to market and they certainly are in the dominant position, although ... if you looked at the last couple months, who's gained the most market share, it's been Nook. ... (W)e recently did a customer satisfaction survey, and the Nook scored higher than the Kindle as far as overall customer satisfaction and functionality and the like ... and so I think the Nook has really taken some good strides but they're really . …

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