Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are e-Books Cannabalizing Print?

Evan Schnittman had an interesting post on his blog recently.

People who pay attention to publishing trends are familiar with an oft-repeated fear within the industry: e-book sales will cannibalize p-book sales.

Schnittman has a different take on the situation:
Ebooks aren’t cannibalizing print books — consumers with ebook reading devices are, as a rule, no longer buying print books.
I think he's absolutely right. One of my reading friends--those few people whom I absolutely trust when they recommend a new book or author--is a guy who bought a Kindle about six months ago. He's developed what I regard as a very annoying habit. When I mention a book I like, he asks, "Is it available as an e-book?"

While I started out by saying, "Don't know; don't care," these days I'll admit I've taken to checking so I can respond appropriately when he asks.

And the Kindle has changed his reading habits. He's reading more books. Not because he loves the experience of an e-reader (although he would say he does). I believe he's reading more books because he is now able to fit more reading time into his life. He takes the Kindle to his gym and reads while he's on the stationary bike. Where he used to read magazines or a newspaper on the train on his way to and from work, he's reading more books. The Kindle goes where he goes.

Schnittman said in his post:
They [e-reader owners] don’t go into stores and are not very likely to shop in online environments that feature ebooks and print books. Ebookstores on ebook reading devices sell only ebooks. Print is not part of the experience.
I called my friend earlier today to ask about this. He acknowledged that he only goes into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore when he's with someone who wants to go in. He said when he sees a book he's interested in at B&N or Half Price Books, he makes note of it so he can purchase it for his Kindle.

I pointed out that if he sees an older book in Half Price Books, it may not be possible to find it for the Kindle. In those cases, does he buy the p-book? His response surprised me a bit. "So far I haven't. I can always find an e-book I'd like to read instead."

If Schnittman is right ... and, based on my friend's experience, he appears to be ... Mike Shatzkin was completely on target in that quote from yesterday:
... it no longer made any sense to have a separate strategy for ebooks: digital had instead to be at the heart of a more general publishing strategy.
Go here to read Evan Schnittman's entire post. It's well worth your time.


Elf said...

"So far I haven't. I can always find an e-book I'd like to read instead."

I can go one step further--if it's not available without DRM, I can find something else I'd be happy to read instead.

I've been reading ebooks almost exclusively for four years now. The few pbooks I've bought, in very niche markets, I usually chop the spines off, scan & convert them so I'm willing to read them. If I don't want it enough to do that much work, I don't need to read it. Which means I don't intend to ever buy another popular fiction book in paper form, and most nonfic can wait until I find it used.

Maya Reynolds said...

Elf: Thanks for commenting.

You raise an issue that the publishing industry needs to come to terms with. Digital rights management is an annoyance to consumers. I agree completely that if I buy it, I want to be able to put it on all my devices or loan it to a friend without some huge hassle.

Tara Maya said...

Wow, Elf. That's going pretty far!

I've had a Kindle for a year and I still buy print. Sometimes of the same books I have an ebook of. I often use the ebook to test the story to see if it's worth getting in print. When it comes to reading, I'll read either version.

This only applies to paperback. I won't bother with lugging around hardcovers anymore. The exception is books I have to read for school.

I think we are really going to see ebook sales rocket up this year. It's one reason I'm self-publishing my own backlist of short stories in an anthology, Conmergence. It will be interesting to see how sales go. Those stories are all out of print or unavailable now, so I have nothing to lose even if the ebook doesn't sell many copies.

Maya Reynolds said...

Tara: It sounds as though you've thought it through and your expectations are not through the roof. Good luck.

Tara Maya said...

I expect to sell about 30 copies. I need to sell 170 to break even. (I paid for editing and a few other ribbons and bows; I can't stand poorly edited self-pubbed crap). Any more than that, and I'll be a pretty happy camper.

Maya Reynolds said...

Tara: Good for you. You know where the bar is set for you to feel good about the experience. Unrealistic expectations are the real danger for writers who head off down the self-published road.

Best wishes and warm regards,