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Have eBooks Peaked? 323

An anonymous reader writes "At Rough Type, Nicholas Carr examines the surprisingly sharp drop in the growth rate for e-book sales. In the U.S., the biggest e-book market, annual sales growth dropped to just 5% in the first quarter of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, while the worldwide e-book market actually shrank slightly, according to Nielsen. E-books now account for about 25% of total U.S. book sales — still a long way from the dominance most people expected. Carr speculates about various reasons e-books may be losing steam. He wonders in particular about 'the possible link between the decline in dedicated e-readers (as multitasking tablets take over) and the softening of e-book sales. Are tablets less conducive to book buying and reading than e-readers were?' He suggests that the e-book may end up playing a role more like the audiobook — a complement to printed books rather than a replacement."
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Have eBooks Peaked?

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  • Piracy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:36PM (#44525005)

    It's piracy! We need to make reading a felony!

    • Re:Piracy! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:13PM (#44525531)

      Here's the reason I rarely buy e-books: A used paper book is usually cheaper. On Amazon a used book is often only $0.01 (plus $3.99 shipping). When I am done reading it, I drop it off at the local Goodwill, which then sells it on Amazon.

      • Re:Piracy! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by seyfarth ( 323827 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @06:01PM (#44526063) Homepage
        I frequently face the same issue. The solution is to drop the price of e-books. I suggest less than 50% of the printed book price. I find it frustrating to see an e-book for $10 when a printed one is $12. I can easily resell or give away the printed book, which makes it a lot more valuable. If the e-book were $6, then perhaps I wouldn't care for the printed copy. Also a printed copy for $4 with shipping is not a big deal versus $6.
      • When I am done reading it, I drop it off at the local Goodwill, which then sells it on Amazon.

        I usually don't sell a book without scanning if first. Just to be sure.

      • I bought a dozen or so e-books when I got a Nook a couple of years ago. This looked like the perfect way to carry references on coding and web site development with me, and reduce desk clutter. It has not worked out.

        I don't quite know why. Logically the e-reader takes up less space on the desk than 3 or 4 references and I can carry it about more easily, too. The bookmarks should make it at least as easy to find sections when I need them. But in practice the e-reader is harder to use than a pile of books s

        • Re:Piracy! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @01:06AM (#44528601)

          It's because ebooks are a piss poor substitute for paper books. They're underpowered, lack 2D acceleration relevant to font-rendering, tend to store data in flash that's connected via the slowest and least-random-access-agile means possible, and basically suck as a reading experience. I have lots of ebooks, most of which have never really been read because the readers piss me off and distract me too badly from the actual task of reading.

          Flipping pages feels like wading through wet concrete, and a computer-literate high school student circa 1990 probably did a better job laying out school papers in Pagemaker than most ebooks. Even pdf versions feel half-baked... like they just let some automated algorithm rip through the layout for the real book, and nobody bothered to make sure that the output actually looked good. I've seen ebooks from big-name technical publishers render with weird pdf errors (a random mangled unicode character, maybe a few characters where the kerning engine just vomited something vaguely resembling mashed-together text onto a page, etc).

          Epub tends to not have the mangled kerning and wacky rendering problems, but THOSE ebooks tend to just look like someone blindly converted the professionally-typeset book to html-like layout and let it land wherever random luck happened to reflow it.

          Then, there's Kindle... where even on a fast PC, flipping to random pages inexplicably brings the whole program to its knees for a second or two while it seemingly struggles to get its act together, and it just plain *intolerably* slow and laggy for random-access tech book reading.

          There's really no nicer way to say it... ebooks, in their current form, are a miserable failure for anything besides reading novels from start to finish. Much of it is just due to underpowered hardware. 2D text isn't sexy like photorealistic rendered 3D, but realtime font rendering at high quality is a demanding (and unappreciated) task in its own right. OpenGL desperately needs hardware-level support for spline acceleration, smoothing, hinting, and everything else. There are some interesting ways you can use OpenGL to render individual glyphs, but with all the ram and T&L processing they have, it's still not enough to pre-define complete triangle-based definitions for 3 font families in 4 styles (normal, bold, italic, bold+italic with even a single UTF-8 codepage, like the one corresponding to ISO-8859-1, let alone even a tiny subset of a language like Chinese.

          In a way, triangle-based high-quality font rendering vs photorealistic 3D is kind of like 720p60 vs 1080i60. People who don't understand what's going on behind the scenes tend to think the latter is a harder task, but when you do the real math, you quickly discover that it's actually the FIRST item in the pair that's the truly *demanding* task, simply because unlike the second item in the pair, the first generally doesn't allow you to cut corners and hide your sins... they get splattered in full public view for everyone to see, and there's nowhere to hide them.

      • Re:Piracy! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:05PM (#44527463) Homepage Journal

        Here's the reason I rarely buy e-books: A used paper book is usually cheaper. On Amazon a used book is often only $0.01 (plus $3.99 shipping). When I am done reading it, I drop it off at the local Goodwill, which then sells it on Amazon.

        For me, it's not price, although I do think that e-books should be priced a lot cheaper because they cost a lot less to produce. No, the main reason is that I know that I'll still have the book I bought when I hit retirement. It's still readable.
        With e-books, I know no such thing.
        What I do know is that the books I bought in PeanutPress/eReader format (Peanutpress got bought by Palm who sold it to Motricity who sold it to Fictionwise who sold it to Barnes & Noble), I can no longer download or change the lock on. B&N killed it, with no compensation to the customers.
        They can't do that with paper books. They're mine, and will be readable in my retirement years too.

        • Re:Piracy! (Score:4, Informative)

          by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @10:07PM (#44527815)


          It can change your eBook format from pretty much any format to any other. I buy them, change the to ePub (unencrypted), and I'm good, forever.

  • Definitions (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I think the word you're looking for is "plateaued". Does no-one do calculus any more?

  • by ElementOfDestruction ( 2024308 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:38PM (#44525025)
    Vendors are flogging tablets over E-ink; why get a one trick pony when you can have a multi-tasker.

    Truth is, the one-trick pony feels much better on the eyes after reading for any extended amount of time. Staring at a backlit LCD just burns out your retinas, and changes reading from a relaxing experience to a tolerable situation.
    • by Clsid ( 564627 )

      Not to mention that the amazing battery life is something that I really enjoy from e-ink devices. I truly believe that with e-ink devices we are facing the situation of the very good light bulb, it became so good that afterwards nobody wanted to replace it, so the factory had to shut down.

  • Sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <ikihsam>> on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:38PM (#44525027) Homepage

    Because they're charging the same price as a paperback, or hardcover, sometimes even more.

    • I don't find that to be the case - at least with nook. Nooks are almost always cheaper than hardcover and sometimes cheaper than paperbacks. They also sometimes have sales on nooks but not on the paper version.

    • Re:Sure... (Score:4, Informative)

      by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:59PM (#44525339)

      Because they're charging the same price as a paperback, or hardcover, sometimes even more.

      And eBooks typically cost more than twice the price of used paperbacks. And I can give the paperback to someone else after I'm done or sell it again for a couple dollars so it's even cheaper.

      I really like my Kindle (the paperwhite with backlight is great for reading in bed without disturbing my partner - better than the clip-on book light) and prefer reading on the Kindle over reading paper books, but not so much that i'll pay twice what it costs to have a used book delivered to my door. My kindle to paper book ratio is about 3:1 -- lately I've only been buying Kindle books when I travel.

      I know the publishing industry says they can't sell eBooks any cheaper, so they will continue to get very little money from me as I stick with used books.

    • Re:Sure... (Score:4, Informative)

      by laura20 ( 21566 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:01PM (#44525359) Homepage

      Yup. They are greedy; they want all that sweet extra crash - and despite the attempts of people to mau mau the numbers to convince the naive that ebooks cost as much for the producers as paper books, it's simply not true. The fact they don't have to factor in the risk cost of returns alone makes them vastly cheaper, even before considering materials costs and storage and transportation costs.

      I'm simply not going to pay hardback prices for an ebook, and I suspect there are plenty of others who feel the same way.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      $1 per book once it hits paperback, and you'll see ebooks rocket, ereaders become the next big thing, and therefore, people will be lapping up cheap content. Spending $15 on a book that's available for less in a B&M store puts people off. Maybe a buck is too low, perhaps $3 will be a sweet spot. There's too much shit available from self-published wannabies right now. Proper books will still sell on paper, a lot of us prefer the media, but there's a whole planet of people that will buy books. Once they'v

    • Re:Sure... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ideonexus ( 1257332 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @07:09PM (#44526715) Homepage Journal


      Why should I pay $9.99 for an ebook that can be taken away from me anytime Amazon wants, can't be lent out or given away, and can't be resold? When I buy a real book, it's an investment. I can resell it, donate it to my local library, or buy other real books from used book sellers for $0.99. My wife's grandmother just passed away, and her family let me take a wealth of old books from her collection. All the money she spent on those books over her lifetime has transferred to her children and grandchildren. When I die, the hundreds--maybe thousands--of dollars spent on my ebook collection dies with me.

      I love my kindle. I love reading ebooks. I love highlighting, clipping, and making notes in them, but there's a very tough tradeoff here. Real books are a material investment, ebooks are ephemeral.

  • Same price ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PIBM ( 588930 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:39PM (#44525035) Homepage

    You pay the same price, but then you can't lend them easily to your friends or resell them, you can't rent them from the local library, depending on the device used, annotating or marking the pages is not effective and can't easily be shared between two people reading the same book at the same time (keep slowly browsing through to get to the current page), and you need to have that device charged up (more or less a problem depending on the device type). Beside having it instantly and the lighting on the kindle paperwhite / kobo glow for night reading, there's not much to like :(

    • keep slowly browsing through to get to the current page

      I don't know of any ebook solution that doesn't have a "goto location" function. The kindle's even offer page numbers that match those in the hard copies.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      In many cases, I have to pay more. For instance, I wanted to have a copy of paper book I have. The paper book was #20 and the e-book was $30. Silly. O'Rieley has about the only decent plan.
    • It's a pro/con balance thing. I can read a new release without lugging around a hardcover. I can finish one book and immediately switch to the next without having to carry two books on the train - or worse several books when flying for 15+hours. I can bookmark a book on one device and pick it up on another (like my phone). I can instantly get more obscure titles that aren't in store without having to have it shipped.

      The biggest downside is that right now you can't read them during take off and landing.

    • What are you talking about?

      The ebooks are cheaper, though not nearly as cheap as they should be, but still cheaper. There are also countless books in the public domain that you can get for free.

      You can borrow ebooks from the library, you can annotate and bookmark, you can share annotations, and some can go weeks without a recharge.

      What is there to like? I like being able to carry a library wherever I go. I have over a dozen tech manuals that are very awkward to carry with me but with a kindle, tablet, or sm

      • There are also countless books in the public domain that you can get for free.


        You can borrow ebooks from the library,

        That and the occasional free book from Amazon constitutes about 99% of the reading done on our Kindle. I don't know if other people are as cheap as me, but I sure can see how once you find Project Gutenberg [] you might purchase a lot less at $15/pop.

        • The problem with relying on Gutenberg is that you'll likely end up getting the impression that the world ended in December 1922.
          • LOL, true - but so far I'm enjoying catching up on some classics. The head of our English department in high school had a very unhealthy obsession with Shakespeare, accounting for about 50% of the curriculum. As a result, I missed out on a lot of staples. I'm currently making my way through the complete works of Mark Twain. :)

            (Innocents Abroad is a hoot... the man had a gift for a good insult.)

            • I think the obsession with William Shakespeare is that a lot of memes of the past four centuries have come from his plays. Just as geeks are expected to be familiar with plots of and quotations from certain movies in order to keep their proverbial geek card [], anglophones are expected to be familiar with plots of and quotations from Shakespeare's plays to earn what I'll call their "anglophone card." Now the problem with my high school English department was that not only was Shakespeare overrepresented but al
    • There is no DRM on the books I bought so far.
      I can lend them whoever I want.
      But I sure as hell won't lend them my Kindle. They got to bring their own.

      Oh and my local library is lending out ebooks. Which you have to return. I still don't understand how that is supposed to work, because there is no DRM on those books either.
      But yes, lending ebooks is a thing apparently.

  • As prices have risen, quite frankly, I might as well order a paperback. Much nicer to hold and read.

    • Several of my preferred authors write VERY large books. Reading them on my Kindle is much less painful than holding one of those monster books.
  • The traditional Kindle is a better reader than a tablet, but it's a one trick pony. If I'm making a choice between the devices, the tablet usually wins.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:40PM (#44525067)

    Perhaps it may have to do something with the price fixing scandal?

    (I love it when publishers tell the public that e-books can't get cheaper because paper isn't actually that much of an expense and people need to get paid for the work, while the authors and translators are told in private that they can't get paid more because "paper and the printer shop costs too much".)

    • by jbolden ( 176878 )

      There are other expenses besides printing:
      shipping, warehousing,
      editing, layout, cover design
      promotional expenses, incentives,


    • by jkonrath ( 72701 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {htarnokj}> on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:15PM (#44525563) Homepage

      From [] (Slightly old)...
      Based on a list price of $27.95
      - $3.55 - Pre-preduction - This amount covers editors, graphic designers, and the like
      - $2.83 - Printing - Ink, glue, paper, etc
      - $2.00 - Marketing - Book tour, NYT Book Review ad, printing and shipping galleys to journalists
      - $2.80 - Wholesaler - The take of the middlemen who handle distribution for publishers
      - $4.19 - Author Royalties - A bestseller like Grisham will net about 15% in royalties, lesser known authors get less. Subtract the author's agent fees and self-employment taxes from that, too.
      - $12.58 - profit for the retailer.

      In the case of an ebook, you're removing the $2.83 in printing.

      You might be removing some of the wholesaling cost, but you might be using Ingram to do your wholesaling if you're a big company. If you're self-publishing, you might be using something like BookBaby or Smashwords. Yes, you can go to KDP and register your own book yourself, but if you're selling in multiple places or selling multiple books, you're going to use a middle-man to handle cataloging, recordkeeping, and listing things in multiple places. If it's more than $2.80 in headaches, you use a distributor.

      Marketing, pre-production, royalties all don't change. (Or they get squeezed, and you get exactly what's going on right now, which is authors complaining "they don't pay us or market us or do a good job editing us like the good old days.")

      As for that $12.58 of supposed profit, here's the interesting thing - Amazon doesn't sell books at list price. John Grisham's new book, The Racketeer, is an example. List price: $28.95. Yours for only $19.81 in paper.

      I'm not saying that ebook prices should be equal to the price of a printed book, but removing the printing doesn't suddenly make a book cost a dollar or even five dollars.

      • Eventually you can reduce or even eliminate more of the overhead. It used to be that writers needed publishing companies to get their books to the public. But now that is no longer true with the internet and ebooks you can sell your own books and keep all of the profit. I think that electronic media is going to be more and more popular for music and books as people see the benefits in convenience. Unlike music there's going to be the issue of providing a format as easy on the eyes as paper, but it gets bett

      • by radtea ( 464814 )

        Let's assume that the initial print run is 5000 (apparently not atypical in the US for hardcovers: [], see "Lesson 11"). That $3.55 for pre-production comes to almost $18,000. Given how poorly edited most books are, and the degree to which layout is automated (I've created both e-books and print books myself, with purely open source tools, and can script the whole process so a monkey could do the work with a push-button) that seems like a huge amount of money.

        I'm not

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rahvin112 ( 446269 )

      I'd mod you up if I had the points. eBooks were growing like mad up until Apple caused prices to triple. When prices went above those of dead trees most people that looked at eBooks decided the value wasn't there and the they stopped selling them to new people (people that made the investment on a reader kept buying eBooks).

      If prices come back down now that the Apple price fixing is over the market will likely rebound but this is the damage Apple and the publishers did. They set the market back probably a d

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:40PM (#44525069)

    Forgoing the DRM on music in Itunes did not kill the music industry, but that's what all the book publishers act like.

    So all we're offered is lock-in, can't loan to friends, etc.

    I don't even enjoy owning physical copies of anything, but with the digital copies I'm allowed to own outright and with as I please in private, I tend to buy (music), with the digital copies where they take every DRM step (movies) or go above that and lock me in (amazon, ebooks), I tend to either rent (netflix), get the physical copy and rip (DVDs), or borrow (Amazon Once a month or whatever library).

  • 6. E-book prices have not fallen the way many expected. There’s not a big price difference between an e-book and a paperback.


    Also, perhaps this reflects a plateau in the number of people willing to invest in tablets or ebook readers? Do these numbers correspond to tablet sales, for example?

  • Apple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:43PM (#44525099) Homepage

    Something not mentioned was Apple pushing the price of ebooks up often by 25%. In general the main reason I haven't switched is that from Amazon used I frequently can get print books much cheaper than the corresponding ebooks. At the time ebooks were surging ebook prices were crashing and there was a huge difference between the ebook and the printed book price. Perhaps, not unreasonably, many people prefer printed books and given a high ebook price there weren't be a cut over.

    • by Wordplay ( 54438 )

      More than that, they were in the news for having done so, which painted the ebook market as a crooked game. I'm not surprised it suppressed sales.

  • by coats ( 1068 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:45PM (#44525139) Homepage

    With paperbacks, my typical behavior is to buy the book, read it, and then donate it to charity (at a retail used-book valuation) for a tax write-off. Given my marginal tax rate (state and federal combined), the net cost of the book is about 65% of face-value.

    With E-books, I can't do that "donate to charity", so the face-value is the net cost, which seems to be about 10% under the paperback price.

    E-book prices need to come down by at least 25% in order to become economically competitive for me.

    • by Princeofcups ( 150855 ) <> on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:10PM (#44525497) Homepage

      E-book prices need to come down by at least 25% in order to become economically competitive for me.

      Except publishers do not want to sell e-books. Let me rephrase that. Publishers want to price e-books so high that people continue to buy paper books. Why? That's their business. They cannot conceive of a business with different distribution channels. The collusion between publishers was not to make more money off of e-books. It was to make sure that the prices are so high that it will not eat into their traditional sales. Something will come along to change the business, but not until a few rich fucks die or are bought out.

  • by bazmail ( 764941 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:52PM (#44525253)
    60% of the cost of publishing a traditional best selling dead-wood book is printing and distribution. With those costs zeroed by ebook publishing, prices have not come down. Add to this the DRM and onerous terms and conditions (you are buying a conditional license to read the book, you don't "own" it). It is illegal to lend the ebook to somebody, illegal to resell (also technically troublesome), probably also illegal to read aloud as that might count as public performance. So fuck publishers, DRM and eBooks.
  • I would suspect that it's more a case of users at the front end of the purchase curve tailing off after too many cases of "oops, I can't download it again because the publisher pulled it", crap I can't easily share it with a friend (who probably also has a different brand reader, even if their own reader supports lending), or even the... loss of the fun of "gee let's stare at the shelf and stare at my books"... Let's not forget the fact that there's no discount that one would expect in an electronic book si

  • Only about half of the books I buy are even available in ebook format, and the price isn't always enough less to offset the fact that they have no resale value.

    The convenience factor is only an influencing one if you read on the go a lot, which I generally do not. YMMV, of course.

    If I could convert my entire library (several thousand books) to ebook format for no or VERY minimal cost, I'd probably do it, but that's probably what it would take.

  • The cost of an ebook is well over 99% pure profit for someone after the first 10000-20000 sales at $10 a book. (you have sunk costs of editors, proof readers, the writer, person who listed the book and maintained its entry on amazon.)

    • by west ( 39918 )

      Unfortunately, since most books are selling less ~3,000 copies, almost very few books, e-book or otherwise, make a profit.

      • I read that after I posted. It said the average book made less than $300.

        Of course "average" is always a danger. We can't guarantee a profit to books as some (many) (most?) are probably not that good. So you have a lot of zeros in there from books which are essentially vanity efforts.

  • The predominant tablet also takes a 30% cut of in-app purchases, so not so enticing to sell e-books via the apps available.
  • Who in their right mind pays the same amount of money for an e-book that they do for a paperback? The rich, and the stupid. Most others know they are being ripped-off.
    • Who in their right mind pays the same amount of money for an e-book that they do for a paperback? The rich, and the stupid. Most others know they are being ripped-off.

      The rich, the stupid, and those who have boxes and boxes full of books that just take up expensive space. If I buy an ebook, I buy it, I read it, and I keep it. If I buy a paper book today, I buy it, I read it, and it goes to the charity shop.

  • I never read books anymore... I spend too much time in front of a computer reading code and everything else.. that the last thing I want to do is strain my eyes on an ebook.

    But I listen to about 2-3 great books a month with Expensive... and worth it.

  • The market share is still expanding, just at a slower rate. Most of us have a basic library of e-books already and are not buying as much as we used to. If the price difference between a electronic published and one printed on paper is not that great, then the tree dies. When a paper book is not one that I am going to read again, off it goes to the used book store for credit on my account. Try doing that with a e-book. Where is this survey getting its data? If the numbers are coming from Association
  • I have a huge backlog of reading in front of me
    Dozens of free books every day with some really good ones in there

  • by west ( 39918 ) on Friday August 09, 2013 @06:03PM (#44526081)

    Almost everyone I know with an e-book reader went nuts buying cheap books until they had a few hundred book in the unread pile. Unfortunately, they've got adult jobs, and thus limited time to read. Their book buying went from 10 times normal rate back down to the normal rate.

    I think a lot of people in the industry were hoping that revenue per reader was going to stay constant, even if the readers were buying 5 times as many books at 1/5 the price. Now reality is sinking in. With cheap e-books, people *might* buy 50% more books, which is still a huge decrease in industry income. This is not a merry time to be a publisher, an author, or to have anything to do with the book industry.

    However, once the publishers are gone, Amazon should do very well in the self-published market. Not with readers, of course - who has time to sift through hundreds of books to find the odd readable one. But with desperate authors who want to get promoted. I figure $25K to get a book to show up decently in the Amazon listings is going to make a lot more revenue than Amazon did from selling books.

    It'll just suck if you want to read anything.

  • Disposable income is less, so 'luxuries' get pushed down the list.

    Pretty simple.

  • 6 bucks if I buy the ebook now.

    The paperback was 3.50 at the time it was released.

    They better rebuild all those used bookstores because we are going to need them. Heck, even
    a used bookstore tried to sell the used paperback for more than the face value.
    Gimme a break.

  • I have certainly bought ebooks.

    But... I went to look for a book which has been out for a few years. I could buy a paperback for $8 if I wanted to drive somewhere. Or... I could buy an ebook for $12.

    That's gonna cut back on sales a fair bit.

"Buy land. They've stopped making it." -- Mark Twain