The State of the Industry

Is the publishing industry better off with the proliferation of digital books?

That depends on who you ask.

Recent research by Forrester surveyed book publishing executives across the United States that make up 74% of the U.S. publishing revenues. The responses they received were depressing. These included:

  • Only 28% of publishing executives think their company will be better off because of the transition to digital, down from 51 percent a year ago.
  • 61% of these executives believe readers will be better off as a result of the digital transition, down from 74 percent in 2010.
  • 60% of the survey respondents believe more people will read than before, down from 66 percent in 2010.
  • 47 % of respondents believe people will read a greater number of books than before, down from 66 percent in 2010—a 19 percent decrease.

While this survey did not address why these publishers were less optimistic about the industry, many speculate that it has to do with the statistics that are suggesting that digital sales are not compensating for the decline in print sales. Others think that the pessimism may have to do with the hard work involved in making the transition to digital, and that this additional stress is weighing on these publishing industry executives.

Self-publishing companies, on the other hand, are optimistic about the state of the industry. Many of these companies are finding that publishing books in digital format is rapidly outpacing printed books by those who publish their own works.

Lulu.com reported that their number of print titles grew by 9% in 2011, while their number of ebook titles rose by 22%. Author Solutions, another large self-publishing company, reported that their ebook titles grew over 425% in 2011 and they expect similar growth this year. Amazon has also seen significant growth with more independent authors achieving great sales success through their Kindle Direct Publishing platform.

Maybe some of the publishing executives’ pessimism actually stems from the data that suggests that digital publishing is truly leveling the publishing field. For the first time, authors publishing their own works and authors who are published by large publishing houses both have equal access to and representation in digital stores such as Amazon, Apple iBookstore, and Barnes&Noble. It may well be the increased competition amongst tradition and self-published digital books that is having the most transformational impact on the publishing industry.

Regardless of industry pessimism or optimism, digital books are growing, and ebooks are becoming a bigger part of the publishing industry.

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