Kindle ebook next to row of books

The decline in the growth of ebook sales over the past two years seems to indicate that most readers have come to the conclusion that they prefer paper books. Ebook sales grew to billions of dollars in just a few years as device makers fought for market share and used advertising to help generate substantial revenue. However ebook sales have reached a plateau and paper books continue to dominate most genres.

People’s preferences are manifesting themselves in the sales trends as shown by the following chart (click on image to view full size). Up until Fall 2011, ebooks were growing at over 100% when compared to the same month of the previous year. So far this year, ebook sales each month have not shown any growth over the same month last year.

ebook growth rate as of August 2013

ebook growth rate as of August 2013

When asked for the reasons why they prefer paper books, readers offer a variety of claims including the following:

  • Finding a specific paragraph that you remember reading is easier to do by flipping through a paper book than an ebook.
  • Writing notes in the margin of a paper book is easier and less disruptive than adding notes to an ebook.
  • Staying focused and immersed in the reading experience is easier with paper books since they do not offer the opportunity to “chase rabbits” on the internet or waste time on other apps.
  • Switching between different paper books provides a tactile experience not found when using the same device for every book.
  • Readers own the paper books they buy. They can put them on their shelves for others to see, loan or give them to friends, and sell them.

What does this mean for authors and publishers? Publishing only an ebook edition will limit your sales dramatically. Most readers who prefer ebooks also buy paper books, but fewer readers who prefer paper books also buy ebooks. If the majority of the readers of your genre prefer paper books then publishing only an ebook cuts your market by more than 50%. With low cost print-on-demand (POD) printing, the cost and effort to make both editions available is usually only marginally more than offering one or the other. As the saying goes: “Both/and is better than either/or.”

Which book format do you prefer and why?

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