Sales of e-books, which were expected to overtake print by 2015, have suddenly slowed sharply, leaving industry observers to wonder the digital apocalypse was largely exaggerated.
The New York Times reports that e-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data for around 1,200 publishers. But even more disturbing than this year’s decline is a general slowing over time, with digital books accounted for around 20 percent last year, which is about the same as they did a few years ago.
Questions about the state of the industry were only spurred on by the news that subscription service Oyster suddenly closed up shop yesterday.
Additionally, hardware sales, including e-readers, are not what they used to be. About 12 million of the white-and-black-screened devices were sold last year, a steep drop from the nearly 20 million sold in 2011, according to Forrester Research.
In addition, the portion of people, who read books primarily on e-readers, fell to 32 percent in the first quarter of 2015, from 50 percent in 2012, a Nielsen survey showed.
But the drop in e-reader sales is somewhat to be expected. Now, people can read e-books on a number of devices, ranging from smartphones to tablets. That is getting particularly more attractive as those devices are getting cheaper. Amazon just announced a tablet that costs as little as $50. Of course, people reading books on those devices are easily distracted by notifications, or the constant tug to check your social media accounts.
At the same time, physical books are for some reason seeing a resurgence, with publishers upping their game by improving their fulfillment centers. Now, they can ship to independent booksellers quickly, eliminating the need for them to carry large amounts of inventory or return unsold books.
BookPeople, an Austin-based bookstore, told the New York Times sales are surprisingly up 11 percent this year, making 2015 the store’s most profitable ever. “The e-book terror has kind of subsided,” the bookstore’s co-owner Steve Bercu told the NYT.
But despite the uncertain state of reading, Amazon confirmed the sales plunge isn’t occurring on their site, hinting that maybe it’s more of a short-term consolidation problem than any widespread trend. Either way, Amazon, which by some estimates controls 65 percent of the e-book market, stands to benefit since it sells plenty of physical books, too.