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Will eBooks Kill Book Sales?

The debate on whether eBooks will kill book sales continues.

First, at Publishing Frontier Joseph J. Esposito says in How the Kindle and Its Kin Will Reduce Book Sales:

One of the unintended consequences of the Kindle and its brethren (desirable for readers, more woe for publishers) is that it will reduce the number of books that are actually sold. This will happen not because of piracy…but because the architecture and business model for the Kindle support a ‘buy only when you need it’ frame of mind, aka ‘just in time’ inventory management.

As a rebuttal, Jane at Dear Author replies (Why eBook Readers Won’t Reduce Sales):

It seems to me, though, that impulse buying is more likely to be curbed by dour economic times than the ‘just in time’ stock method of digital books. Further, the publishing market analysis that Esposito engages in is only half the story.

I don’t know enough about the book business to make an informed call, but my gut says that eBooks will not negatively affect book sales because (piracy aside) what they offer is an additional (and wider) distribution channel and that’s a good thing.

What do you think?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

15 Comments on Will eBooks Kill Book Sales?

  1. Simon Haynes // November 3, 2008 at 3:51 am //

    It’s not much of a stretch to say I’ve staked my writing career on the idea that ebooks improve paperback sales, rather than the other way around. So far over 30,000 people have downloaded the first Hal Spacejock ebook, and the paperback version is on its third printing. Career not over yet.

    I run a giveaway on my site where the winners get to choose which of the books they want, from 1-4.  Despite book 1 being freely available, that’s the paperback they choose. Why?

    Finally, don’t forget the vast number of books bought as gifts for others. Those sales will never convert to ebooks. (Sorry, kids … Gran got you Harry Potter 14 on a mem chip for Reader X version 9.8, not Reader W version 2.3. The shop won’t exchange ebooks so you’re out of luck.)

  2. I feel that this is similar to online music.  When music sharing was at its highest point, before the music industry crackdown, people listened to the music then bought the artist’s CD if they liked it.  Since the crackdown CD sales have dropped.  People were allowed to be more selective and then they knew they were not wasting their money on a CD they may or may not like.

    With ebooks it is the same, people get a chance to see if they like how an author writes and based on that they will decide to buy a hardcopy or not. If someone knows that they will enjoy a book by a given author then they are more likely to buy more from that author.

    I am one of the people that downloaded the Hal Spacejock book and I found it a great read.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I am from the middle of the US and we don’t get a lot of books here from Austrailian publishers I’m sure I would have found these books at retailers of used book shops.  If I ever do I will snap them up.  Mean while if anyone asks for a recommendation I will certainly point them to the free download.

  3. Maria Stahl // November 3, 2008 at 7:37 am //

    I’m the late adapter’s late adapter, so maybe not the right person to answer this question, but I cannot see ebooks making much of a dent, at least until another generation comes along. I find the concept of Amazon Kindle fascinating, but probably won’t buy one. Books have too many emotional overtones to me to give up on them. They smell good. They feel good. You can write stuff in the front flyleaves and give them to people as presents. You can get the author to write stuff in the front flyleaves and keep them for yourself.

    I thought Kindle would be an excellent option for college students: One little paperback-sized gadget could hold a whole year’s worth, maybe more, of textbooks. But you can’t buy or sell used Kindle textbooks.


  4. crashmstr // November 3, 2008 at 7:59 am //

    In reference to the first article, I say hogwash. I have three books from Jonh Ringo, two from Laurell K. Hamilton (soon to be three), one or two from Raymond E. Feist, and at least several others I purchased when they came out in eBook format, but just have not made it to the top of my reading list.

    I’ve been reading almost exclusively in eBook formats for several years now (about 98%), and I find that I actually buy more books in advance than I did before, as I can have several to many choices for when I finish a book, especially when I’m reading a series that I am catching up on. This way, if I finish up a book halfway through my lunch hour, I can start reading the next in the series right away! Or, if I feel like something else, I’ve got plenty to choose from as well.

    I can see their point a bit as the Amazon Kindle (and yes, I have one) has build in data-connectivity and a functional store portal on the device, but even so, I still find I do the same thing with books in the Kindle format: Buy them when convenient, not when needed.

  5. Of the 75-odd books I’ve read this year, 25 were eBooks. I also happen to own all 25 of those eBooks as hardcovers.

    If eBooks are going to kill anything (at least for me), it’ll be paperbacks. If I can buy a reasonably priced eBook, I’ll buy it over a paperback.

    One thought: Booksellers, publishers, etc., complain that it is more expensive to return books (e.g., paperbacks) than to just destroy them at a store. So eBooks are ecologically friendly!



  6. My biggest problem with the Kindle is that it costs over $300. I can buy a lot of paperbacks for that much money. However cool an ebook reader is, it’s just not economically feasible to me. The convenience of having lots of books at my fingertips isn’t balanced out by factors such as the cost and battery life. In the near future, I see ebooks as being a niche market. A growing one, granted, but not one that will significantly impact the sales of print books.

  7. I read constantly and if the Kindle got 99% of the titles out there, I’d have to buy one. I love having a book in my hand, but what to do with all of them after is getting troublesome. I don’t have much time to resell them, and I hate throwing them away, and I recently had to do that. So, having ebooks on a portable reader would be ideal to me, but I tend to like quirky stuff and no ebook is there yet, so I’m still buying books.

    Meanwhile, because I have such good associations with book stores going to Borders, or wherever, is like a vacation to me so I love it. It’s also a thrill for me to find an interesting book that I didn’t know about by accident, so the stores are therapeutic for me.


    1. Wouldn’t authors be positively affected by ebooks? It seems to me that there should be more profit with ebooks as there’s no materials involved (paper, printing, labor) for anyone to pay for.

    2. Is an author more likely to sell a book in a store or on Amazon given that they’re well or little known. 

  8. I sincerely doubt ebook sales will kill book sales. Despite the advancing ebook reader technologies I believe ebooks are and always will be a niche market. It has appeal to a very specific target audience. Time and again when discussing ebooks people say they prefer reading real books. The entire argument is similar to the old argument about how VHS tapes and then DVDs would kill theatre attendance. Never happened. It’s all about the experience. Advancing technologies do not guarantee adoption. Just because something is available doesn’t mean it should or needs to be used. Look at Apple computers. They’ve been around for 35 years, praised to the heavens, but still represent a minor blip in market share for computer users. Is there really a need for a better mousetrap?

  9. You don’t need a Kindle. You can read many of the formats available on a PalmOS PDA. I have two “backup” Sony Clie’s that I bought for $50.00 each (“second hand”, but actually new, just discontinued). I read eReader, Mobipocket, TomeRaider, text and several other formats on them.

    There are also readers from Sony, Bookeen and many other companies. You **don’t** have to buy a Kindle.

  10. Fred,

    I’d buy any with a complete book selection, but the Kindle does have some great features. I saw the eink (or whatever) display on a Sony model (poor quality book selection) and thought it was much better than a PDA display. It looks like printed paper.

    Anyway, I’d like answers to my I posted because I thought ebooks would be welcomed by both publishers and authors.

  11. Can’t help you with the Kindle. It looks like an Apple //c, squished. My fingers and wrists cringed with the thought of trying to type on that non-ergonomic design.

    As for eBooks being welcomed by authors and publishers…take a look at Baen’s Webscription service. A lot of their authors have some very positive things to say about it…and a lot of non-Baen publishers are getting distributed via the service (NightShade, Subterranean, others). They must be doing something right…

  12. As a new writer (well, my first book is just out), I, too, wonder what impact electronic books will have on book sales in general. As a reader, I know I have picked up books while browsing in physical book stores, while looking for the one I came in for, or just because they were sitting next to the one I was interested in on the shelf. I can’t recall every serendipitously stumbling across a book that wasn’t my target on line.

    I think, in general, that’s the effect of electronic/on-line sales: they make it easier, and perhaps cheaper, to get the product I’m after. But the likelihood of finding something else that interests me is greatly decreased when each item is in its own separate room.

  13. Simon Haynes // November 3, 2008 at 9:07 pm //

    “I am one of the people that downloaded the Hal Spacejock book and I found it a great read.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I am from the middle of the US and we don’t get a lot of books here from Austrailian publishers I’m sure I would have found these books at retailers of used book shops.  If I ever do I will snap them up.  Mean while if anyone asks for a recommendation I will certainly point them to the free download.”


    Thanks for the feedback – and that encapsulates the reason publishers should be giving away free ebooks. “Here, try this. You might like it.” is human nature.

    If enough people hear about a new book or an author, increased sales of physical copies will more than compensate for the minority of readers who are happy to read the ebook and move on.

    Also note that my publisher is giving away book one in a series which now contains four titles. It’s a canny move, although I would like to see ebook versions of the other titles on sale. (The problem is this: because the series hasn’t been picked up by UK or US publishers yet, making ebook versions of the books available worldwide could scotch any chance of a deal. Releasing book one is a risk, but there are three more in print and at least two more in the pipeline, so it’s only a small portion of the entire cake. Releasing them all could mean no US or UK release, ever.)

  14. I agree that eBooks will likely never to rise above a niche market.  Buying and reading books are a fundamental experience.  Such as going to the movies.  I look at it as the same as watching a down loaded movies from Netflix versus going to the actual theater.  Yes downloading is easier, but there is something about taking family to see a movie with a group of strangers.  eBooks are here to stay but will never replace physical books…untill there are no more trees to chop down. 🙂 

  15. As long as there are people breathing on this planet, there will be printed books. The Kindle, the Sony ebook reader and the growing number of other ebook readers in existence or not yet imagined will serve as a fantastic enhancement to book reading not a replacement for printed books.

    Ebook readers are a quick, easy, and efficient way to obtain content, consume it, and move on to more content. But the romance, the memories, the experience of buying a printed book, the look, feel and smell of a printed book, and the enjoyment one receives from reading a printed book will be here for all eternity. Just as movie theaters will be around until the end of time no matter how advanced the technology becomes for home theaters. I don’t care how rich you are, you will never duplicate the experience at home of going to the theater, smelling the popcorn and candy, finding a seat with a comfortable view, and enjoying the movie with family or friends and groups of others taking in the same experiences.

    Printed books have the same cultural value as movie theaters. Ebook readers will never replace those values and experiences only offer a new experience.

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