Will eBooks Kill Print Books?

There are people in the book business on both sides of the death of the print book issue. Some say that ebooks will kill the print book. Others maintain that the print book will be around for years to come.

Amazon recently reported that Kindle books have now “overtaken paperback books as the most popular format,” even as paperback sales have continued to grow. Amazon reports they are selling 115 Kindle books for every 100 paperbacks.

While I admit that ebook sales are growing rapidly, I am a little suspicious of Amazon’s statement. Since Amazon offers millions of free public-domain titles as free Kindle downloads, I wonder whether they are counting these downloads as “sales” in their Kindle store. I question how many of those 115 Kindle books are the free public-domain titles for the Kindle and not really “money” sales.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, a Christian publishing house, recently stated, “I have no doubt that we are in the midst of a digital transition. It is here to stay and is proving disruptive—especially to brick-and-mortar booksellers. The only question is: How fast will the migration to digital happen? In my opinion, not as fast as the majority of my colleagues in the industry think. I do not believe that by 2014, 50% of all books sold will be digital. I believe the number will be closer to 25%. That is, in fact, the planning assumption we are using at Thomas Nelson.”

Interestingly, a recent survey found that e-reader owners are buying nearly as many print books as e-books. On average, e-reader owners in the survey planned to buy identical amounts of print and e-books: 7.2.

It appears there is no overt evidence of ebooks cannibalizing print books in the near future. I believe that a hybrid market of print and ebooks is here, and that it will persist for some years to come.

In the meantime, until the actual death of print books, publishers and self-published authors should make sure that they are offering their books in both print and digital forms to remain viable and maximize their sales.