• Izak Hannard

Will Physical Books Be Scrapped In The Years To Come?

Today I want to talk about a topic that I think isn't widely discussed at the moment in the publishing industry. For the past few years, we've watched e-books take the publishing market by storm with the rise of Kindle, a device capable of holding thousands of books to access at the touch of a finger. But what happens if we no longer have the option to read physical copies? In today's piece, I want to explore what this could possibly mean for new authors.

We're increasingly living in a digital world where just about everything we do involves technology and to some readers, a nice glossy paperback book serves as an escape from the digital aspects of modern life.

According to a report by CNBC in 2019, physical books were still outselling e-books, despite recent technological advancements in e-book devices. Handley went on to report that "publishers of books in all formats made almost $26 billion in revenue last year in the U.S., with printmaking up $22.6 billion and e-books taking $2.04 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report 2019. Those figures include trade and educational books, as well as fiction."

"While digital media has disrupted other industries such as news publishing and the music business, people still love to own physical books, according to Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers’ Association in the U.K."

I think this is quite interesting and provides us with a broader scope into some of the reasons why readers prefer to choose a physical book over an e-book. Personally, I enjoy both. Reading a physical copy of a book grants me that gift of holding somebody's creativity in my hands from cover to story from beginning to end. An e-book offers me accessibility and an interactive reading experience especially when I'm reading up on more than one thing, which can be very convenient when accessing more than one text at a time.

What about the genre? According to the same report, the findings state that whether people prefer to read via e-book or physical copy depends on the genre of the book. Handley adds that "genres that do well in print include nature, cookery and children’s books, while people prefer to read crime, romantic novels and thrillers via e-reader, according to Nielsen Book International."

It is also important to note that during the COVID-19 pandemic, print publishing took a slight pause especially for comic books which went totally digital as of April 1st according to a report by The Hollywood Reporter. McMillan says "for the first time in the comic book industry's more than 80-year history, there will be no new print comics debuting as of April 1. But will comics continue on digitally? That's the question publishers, creators and readers are asking as the novel coronavirus grinds the comic book industry to a standstill."

"Traditionally, most comic books in North America are released simultaneously in print and in digital format for the same price, with digital getting a lower price point a few weeks after publication. The notion of selling digital releases ahead of the print release or at a lower price point has been portrayed as undercutting print comic sales and alienating comic book retailers, who brought in an estimated $516 million annually in 2018, compared with digital's $100 million (not accounting for subscription services such as Marvel Unlimited or DC Universe)."

Interestingly, the report begs the question as to whether comic books will be the first to go completely digital or if physical comic books will be slowly introduced again post-pandemic. It's also important to note that during worldwide lockdowns with commercial and independent bookstores being closed for a significant period of time, the sales of e-books have increased significantly over the first half of 2020.

A report by Kozlowski for GoodReader states that "HarperCollins has just reported that in the first three months of the year and digital sales rose 3%. Online sales have also grown since March, CFO Susan Panuccio said. In the third quarter, digital sales represented 23% of HC’s consumer sales, about $91 million, up from 21% in the third quarter of fiscal 2019.

"Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said that ebook sales were up 13% in the quarter, and sales are now running as much as 50% over the same time last year. Meanwhile, print sales began to soften at the end of March and took a major hit in April, Reidy said, as most bookstores across the country had closed by that point. Some print sales have shifted to outlets like Walmart, however, and online sales have also risen.

"Hachette stated that ebooks accounted for 16.8% of total revenue in the first quarter of 2020, down from 17.4% in the first quarter of 2019. They seem to be the only outlier where ebooks dipped a little bit during the pandemic."

Additionally, UK Councils have also reported a massive increase in books that have been loaned out electronically with the closures of local libraries across the country during the COVID-19 lockdown. Without access to physical copies of books, people have turned to loan books electronically.

"In the month of March, Hampshire County Council has seen a 770% increase in new digital users, Cornwall Council a 630% increase and Hertfordshire County Council an increase of 332%. Wiltshire Council said ebooks are up 43% and Queens Public Library said users checked out 40,633 ebooks."

So what does this mean for future authors and will physical books eventually turn digital and will this be more cost-effective in the long-term?

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