E-book sales plateau while print books hold place in readers' hearts

When e-books were first introduced more than a decade ago it appeared that print was in danger, but that so-called death of the physical book hasn’t happened.

BookNet head says e-book sales may be suffering from high prices set by publishers

Survival of the print book

7 years ago
Duration 2:05
Renee Filippone on why e-book sales have plateaued and print books still survive.

Curling up with a good book may be in your holiday plans, but will the pages you flip be paper or digital?

When e-books were first introduced more than a decade ago it appeared that print was in danger, but that so-called death of the physical book hasn't happened.

According to the Association of American Publishers, U.S. e-book sales during the first five months of 2015 declined by 10.3 per cent.

Canadian sales flat

BookNet Canada has done consumer research around e-books sales in Canada and found that sales on this side of the border are not going up.

"What we are seeing in Canada is that over the last year or so, two years, it's been a ... plateauing of the e-book numbers," said BookNet Canada CEO Noah Genner.

Genner urged caution over the low sales numbers being reported in the U.S. suggesting that they aren't all inclusive and only take into account e-book sales by the big publishers. 

"There is a whole other piece of the market that isn't reported into those AAP numbers and that's self-published authors and micro-publishers and even some indie publishers. And so they may be doing very very well in digital," said Genner.

E-books priced too high

As for why consumers are buying fewer e-books, Genner suggested pricing could be part of the problem.

"E-book prices have actually risen, especially on new titles and bestseller titles,  to actually be very close to the print book price. So that has definitely an effect. So people who are using price to shop are not seeing that differential," said Genner.

Jo Saul opened Type Books in Toronto a decade ago during a time when bookstores were closing and e-books weren't even on the horizon.

"We didn't even know what was in store for us. But even at that time people called us crazy, kind ones called us naive because of the feeling that e-tailing was really going to dominate the book retail scene," said Saul.

Bookstores survive

But that takeover by e-books and online retailing turned out to be overblown. Online giant, which has rattled the publishing world, is even embracing the physical book. The company opened its first bricks-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle this past November.

"Books are in our DNA at Amazon. It was the first product that we started selling. We were earth's biggest bookstore and so now we're one of the small bookstores too," said Amazon vice-president Jennifer Cast.

Saul said her independent bookstore is thriving, with sales up year after year. She's not too concerned about the future of the physical book.

"I have had people come in and say 'oh I tried the e-book, I tried the e-reader and I am going back to the physical book.'  I like the feel I like the smell, I like the fact that I can actually mark it up where I am, dog ear it," said Saul. "I can't imagine this incredible technology of the physical book is going to disappear any time soon."


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