SlipOnIcehikers-17410_1280The Digital Reader has run D. B. Hebbard’s  informative analysis of the recent ‘e-book sales have been slipping’ meme. He points to factors such as ’embarrassingly bad’ content. But what else might be behind the ‘slip’ in book sales? Here are some views from the ground, as it were. Ahead is what I am seeing in the consumer marketplace around me.

1) Customers are buying different books. I truly don’t think customers are not buying books. I think they are buying books which aren’t from major publishers, and so these books are not measured by the usual surveys. I have a book for sale on the Kindle store right now myself (well, I have four books, but three of them are in categories I knew were not profitable and were put up there for other reasons) and it’s selling at a comfortable clip of several copies a week. I have reason to believe that if I put out other, similar books and they each sell several a week, I could eventually make a bit of money. Meanwhile, my sister has a book on the Kindle store. She tells me it is selling also.

2) Customers are buying different devices. Hebbard points out, correctly, that more people are shifting from dedicated e-readers to multi-purpose smartphones. But what I have seen happen to more than one person is that they intend to amalgamate their reading onto a smartphone, but they get seduced by the phone’s other content. My mother, an avid reader, has a Scrabble app on her phone that logs her wins. The last time I checked it, she had clocked over 400 games! Surely that is cutting into the reading time a little. It may be unfair to ask a work of literature to compete with Netflix or immersive gaming. But that is the world in which we now find ourselves. A book is not just competing with other books—it’s competing with everything on the reader’s phone.

3) People are borrowing more often. I have written before about the effect Netflix had on my TV watching. Now, I am seeing the same thing happen with my books. I have a few channels I can borrow from now, including the public library and Kindle Unlimited. Most of my reading these days is less ‘I am carefully seeking out the best way to read a certain title’ and more ‘I am perusing the available options and choosing the most appealing one for me.’ I suspect I am not the only one who is browsing this way.

It is a different marketplace from even a few years ago. But people still are paying for content, and authors can still make money selling it.

Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified the author of The Digital Reader commentary.

(CC-licensed image from Pixabay.)

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. Perhaps the reason for the slip is that more readers are like me — they have stopped buying ebooks and have returned to print books. I now spend $0 on ebooks and $150-$200 per month (on average) on print books. I only “buy” free ebooks and do that only occasionally (although I did break down and spend $2.99 at Smashwords for a next-in-series book that is only available in ebook form. My total ebook expenditures for 2015 = $2.99 at Smashwords).

  2. For what it’s worth, I read and review, according to my Goodreads records, an average of 115 books per year. I buy many more than that. Exclusively ebook, now. But I’m also an avid user of Scribd and KU which would certainly have an impact on buying if others are doing the same. Another issue is the rise in ebook prices for legacy publisher books now that agency seems to be the rule. I just will not pay $14 for an ebook. My tipping point seems to be around $10 and I use EReaderIQ for notifications of price drops. That would account for my buying fewer ebooks from legacy publishers. In addition, I suspect the data being cited do not take into account Amazon indie-published books which, I suspect are doing just fine and growing, given their lower price points.

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