Can print publishing compete with eBooks and e-readers

by Rachel Small

In July this year Amazon announced that in the three months previous it had sold 143 kindle books for every 100 hardback books. This statistic shows that the way we read books is being revolutionised. But as many people switch from paper to eBooks what will happen to the publishing industry.

But before we talk about the present day we have to go back and look at the beginnings of e-readers and their evolution. As internet speeds increased and downloading became faster more and more content was published online. This led to some books being put online. Most of these were informative non-fiction books written for a limited audience of speciality area enthusiasts. These books were published in a number of varying formats(PDF, BBeB, ZIP etc) and by different online publishers. This meant that the market became incredibly fractured which led to problems.

In 2007 Amazon launched its first Kindle. It was the first e-reader to have a marked commercial success. Although Amazon will not release the number of Kindles it has sold, it is estimated to be in the millions. Other e-readers that have had a huge success including the iPad have also sold in huge amounts.

There are many advantages to e-readers and eBooks from a reader’s perspective. An e-reader can hold hundreds or even thousands of books in a device even smaller than one book, there is a vast array of books, magazines and newspapers available to download. Also digital books are often cheaper than their print counterparts.

However eBooks and e-readers are not without their problems. Critics say that there is no substitute for the feel/smell of a real book. Other problems are; you can’t borrow books from libraries on an e-reader and some say that e-readers hurt your eyes when used for a long time.

The impact of eBooks and e-readers has been felt by every aspect of the publishing industry. This affects everything from bookshops, to publishers to authors.

Using sites like Amazon and Apples Book Store authors without publishing deals can sell their books. I asked Ron Hart VP of Novel Publicity – a US based company that helps authors market themselves whether this has helped take the control out of the hands of publishers and given it back to authors. He told me that it definitely has  “Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Rife with gray areas.” I asked him to expand and he told me some of the pros and cons of publishing your work yourself the pros are; you make more money (70% goes to the author if you sell on amazon compared to approximately 17% the author would get from a publisher).You get more control “No one’s going to tell you to change your book or rewrite it or revamp it” and it speeds up the whole process. However there are also downsides to self-publishing . These include; you will have to market your book yourself, there is a stigma to it, you have no support and there is no quality control.

The evidence that eBooks and e-readers are having an effect on booksellers is clear to see. In the last month alone WHSmith has launched its kobo e-reader in an attempt to bolster its falling sales of print books (sales fell 4% in the last year). Waterstones have been selling e-readers in store and online for years alongside print books.  But other retailers who have failed to move with the times have been caught out. In November 2009 Borders Bookshops went into administration after it failed to compete in this new market. Independent booksellers have been hit even harder, figures from the Booksellers Association say the number of independent booksellers in the UK has fallen by more than a quarter since 2006.

Sophie Nicholls self-published novel ‘The Dress’ is currently in the Amazon UK Kindle top 10 bestsellers list. I talked to her about her recent success and how eBooks are empowering writers. After writing her first novel Sophie decided to upload it onto Amazon “as an experiment” .  It takes around thirty minutes for a book to upload onto the site. Sophie uploaded ‘The Dress’ on 24th September. ”You write a description of your book, you upload a cover design and literally you click a few buttons and your book is published”.  Between word of mouth and featuring on a promotional email from Amazon by the end of October ‘The Dress’ was in the Kindle bestsellers list.  I asked Sophie how she felt about the way her book has taken off “It’s been very quick, I’m still stunned by it”. If Sophie had looked for a traditional publishing deal it would have taken at least 18 months for her book to be published. As it is she is hoping to have the sequel to ‘The Dress’, ‘The Dream’ finished and online by Christmas.

Some die hard book fans will never make the switch to e-readers and eBooks, but the print publishing industry must adapt if it is to survive. E-readers and eBooks are going to continue making it easier for authors to publish their work and for readers to have a much wider selection of books to choose from. If the print publishing industry wants to compete it must innovate.

Here is my full interview with Sophie Nicholls 

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