Printed books (sales) are so last century

Are things looking grim for the publishing industry? Well, it’s all a matter of how you look at it. Technically, people are still reading books. That’s for certain. Just look at the incredible popularity¬† of Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. They’re undeniable successes by any account. Amazon posted that its e-book sales increased by 163 % in May, a year-to-date increase of a whopping 207%. So see, we’re still reading. Who ever said Americans are getting dumber? (Yeah, I probably come back to eat those words later!)

So then why would the printing industry be concerned? It’s an interesting conundrum, really, when you look at the numbers. Yes, the written word is still as popular as ever, but in a different format. It seems that e-book sales are way out-pacing those of their more tactile cousins – the traditional print version. Amazon claims that e-books have outsold print books by 43% over the last three months. Wowza, that’s a lot of downloading!

Why are the high-tech titles selling like hot cakes? Well, there are a few perks. E-books tend to be cheaper for us consumers than buying the book in the flesh – although some would argue that the production price is still surprisingly high despite a lack of physical nature. What does “cheaper” really mean? Well let’s play devil’s advocate here and look at the list price for, say, “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth book in the Twilight sage (not that I’m condoning people actually reading the Twilight saga!) Cover price may be $14.99, but who every pays the list price? You can get a paperback edition for $8.99, which in this case is actually less than the kindle copy at $10.99.

But you can generally find an electronic version of the book you desire for (if not FREE!) at least a few dollars less than buying the hard (or soft-cover, that matter) thing. Our graphic designer – who was a passion for finding the best absolute best deal on books for her nook – is constantly searching online for free ebook versions of whatever we’re discussing. And she usually finds them!

Besides price, ebooks have absolute convenience in their corner. You don’t have to get up and go anywhere at all to purchase and download your new literary engagement. And you’re never stuck. It’s not like the old days of porting five novels around with you to the beach to switch when you’re bored with one. For those of us who tend to be on the more indecisive side – end up packing half of the luggage full of just books because you’re not sure what you’ll be in the mood for, and then ultimately regretting that you didn’t bring that other one – having every weightless book you own with you for any sudden mood change is a good thing.

But no matter how convenient, portable and cheap electronic reading is, there will always be something special about holding a book in your hand. It’s a different kind of experience that a nook, kindle, iPad, and my 4″ Droid can’t replace. So will print eventually fall out? Will the e-books of the world cast a growing shadow upon the antiquated paperback? Will corner bookshelves across the world lose all functionality, except for housing one of every e-reader? Or is this just a fad that can co-exist with the traditional publishing industry? What do you think?

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