This past year or so a number of articles proclaiming the decline and fall of eBook sales hit my inbox. One recent article claimed that “screen fatigue” is the cause of a 17% decrease in eBooks sales in the UK. This same publication posted an article saying that eBooks have lost their appeal because Kindles are clunky and unhip. (Really? That’s a reason?) And, another, many others actually, claim that people simply miss holding a real life book in their hands.
Detractors say that these claims fail to take into account indie published numbers and that if all those eBooks were taken into account the numbers would reverse themselves, or at least level out. Others have claimed that trad publishers insistence on raising eBook prices is a cause. They may be right, but I have no way of knowing.
The thing is, I will read a good book from beginning to end no matter what format it’s in. The same is true for a book that doesn’t appeal to me for whatever reason. I’m not going to finish it no matter the format. I experimented one time. There was a book that had very high ratings, everyone I knew said it was great and yet for whatever reason, I couldn’t get into it. So, I switched from digital to print thinking that maybe I would like it better in that format. Nope. Still never finished it.
But, if I was forced to choose, I would pick print over digital. I love the smell of books. I love walking into a bookstore or library and inhaling the aroma of all that paper. I love the feel of books. That friendly “let’s go on an adventure” bit of weight in my hands. I love having bookcases crammed with books in my home. I love the little piles of books that accumulate around my chair. You get the gist.
I didn’t start buying eBooks in earnest until Borders went belly-up. I was living in Eureka, CA at the time and they were the only bookstore in town. Except for the used bookstore in old town. I had purchased a Kobo about a year earlier and used it for some books, but I wasn’t that happy with it. After Borders closed I got a cheap Kindle and started using it. But, I still really missed my frequent stops at Borders. Hell, I bought most of my Christmas gifts there.
Now I live in a place with zero bookstores and a crappy library so 99% of my books come from Amazon. And somewhere in the neighborhood of 89% of those books are only partially read. In looking through those titles that show somewhere between 8% and 25% read I realize that if I had come across these books in a physical bookstore, I probably wouldn’t have purchased most of them.
First of all, there’s the cost factor. Print books cost more than eBooks. Although, since the trad publishers got their way, the pricing of eBooks is climbing. Sometimes the digital version actually costs more than the print version. The point is, I probably wouldn’t have spent the extra money for print versions of these books.
Next comes size. When you pick up a physical book it is either thick or thin or somewhere in between. It’s easy to estimate how much of a time commitment is attached to the book. With an eBook all you know the page count, which is only helpful to a point.
Then there’s sampling. With an eBook you can only sample as much as Amazon and the author allow you too. With a print book you can read the entire first chapter if you want. You can flip through the whole book and read the first couple of sentences from every chapter if you like. You can answer questions like: Does the author go heavy on narrative and description? Or does he/she like liberal amounts of dialog? Are there charts, graphs, illustrations or maps? (Which, by the way, are impossible to read or see in an eBook.) In other words, you can get a solid feel for the author’s style and tone and spend some time deciding whether the subject matter is something you want to commit 2 or 10 or 20 hours of your life too. You can become friends with a print book before you buy it.
There are, however, solid reasons for choosing eBooks over print. Maybe, like me, you live in an area with no bookstores and a less than adequate library. It’s eBooks or paying extra for shipping unless you have a Prime membership.
You may be like a friend of mine who’s so tech savvy she can highlight, take notes, bookmark and do a thousand other things with her Kindle that I couldn’t even imagine. It’s eBooks or nothing for her. She also has roommates who have threatened to evict her if she brings any more books into their apartment.
Immediacy. You can purchase and download an eBook in minutes without ever leaving home or changing out of your pajamas.
Price. Indie published eBooks are usually cheap enough that anyone can afford them. Of course, a lot of them are also poorly written and not properly edited, but oh well.
Travel. My number one reason for owning a Kindle. When I travel I must take a book or two with me. It’s a lot easier to pack and carry a Kindle around than a couple of print books.
What I have learned in the last 3 years is that I must, absolutely, be more selective with my eBook purchases. I have wasted a lot of money buying books I’ll never read because the little bit I was allowed to read was sounded good and the reviews made it seem like the best book ever. This is not the way to buy books. Not for me anyway.
And, maybe that’s what accounts for the drop in eBook sales. Maybe there are more people like me out there that have decided to fight the allure of quick and easy buying and no longer trust the reviews they read. Maybe we need to get to know our books a little better before we buy them.