Do Readers Really Prefer Their Dusty Old Paperbacks To E-Books?
Today, 23 percent of all male adults and 33 percent of all female adults in the United States read e-books. In fact, the global e-book industry is worth a whopping $8.5 billion. This still pales in comparison to global print’s $53.9 billion so it’s little surprise readers still prefer holding those dusty old paperbacks. 46 percent of U.S. Internet users said they only read printed books while 15 percent read more e-books than printed books. A mere 6 percent of Internet users said they exclusively read their books in electronic format. What does all that mean for the industry? Are e-books going to be the final nails in the coffin of conventional brick and mortar bookstores in the near future? Far from it. The pace of the digital revolution has slackened with e-book sales growth falling to just 5 percent in the U.S. 2013. Revenue has also stagnated at just over $3 billion.
We spoke to Marco Boer, chair and keynote speaker for the Digital Book Printing Conference, to get his thoughts on why digital printing is a priority for book publishers.
Why should publishers be interested in digital printing? What are the primary benefits and drawbacks?
Digital printing allows publishers the ability to take the risk on a small, unknown author who could turn out to be a real gem and enable him to get out via a traditional publishing route, as opposed to self-publishing — which is really the biggest threat to traditional publishing. In order to take bigger risks, publishers have to be able to publish very short runs.
If you think that a particular author might not sell more than 200 books, you’ll go with digital printing. But the benefit of digital is that you can easily scale that and print another 200 digitally in a couple days. If it turns out a book is going viral, you can move that to offset printing. The biggest concern is that if you do get this unexpected runaway hit because of viral marketing, you’re going to have to find somebody who can handle those volumes.
How quickly do you see the shift from traditional to digital printing occurring?
Today, and this is on a worldwide basis, we believe something like 5% of the total printed pages are printed digitally. If you look at the number of titles, that could be as much as a third already. The U.S. is a little more aggressive than Europe, and the reason we’re more advanced is partially because of how our distribution is structured. Amazon has basically completely upended how books get to market, and as a result, the ability to order these very short runs has brought all these new authors into the business. And they are a huge purveyor of digitally printed books.
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