Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are Paper Books Dead?

Since the news broke that Borders is closing its remaining 399 stores and firing 11,000 employees, authors, publishers and many in the news media are asking the same question:  "Is the printed paper book dead?"

After all, Borders couldn't make a go of selling paper books, and lost market share to Barnes & Noble and Amazon, which sell their own ebook reading devices.  Then there is the news that ebooks are rapidly outselling hardcover books at Amazon.

Well, hold on.  There are a few pieces of information missing from the picture.  First, Borders didn't go bankrupt just because it was behind in the ebook game, although that was a contributing factor.  There were many other things at work here, including the very important fact that Borders had not turned a profit since 2006, prior to the explosion of the ebook market.  Borders made a number of bad business moves, and it would have gone out of business even if the ebook didn't exist.

Let's also examine more closely the fact that last year Amazon said it was selling more ebooks than hard cover books.  Well, exactly how many is that, exactly?  Amazon hasn't been forthcoming with exact numbers, but Business Insider took a stab at it.  The number they came up with (as of June 2010):  Amazon sold about 22 million Kindle ebooks last year.  That's the equivalent of about 6 percent of the total print book market.  A more recent figure from May 2011 shows that Amazon sells 105 Kindle ebooks for every 100 print books sold.  That's not 105 for every one print book sold.  That's a five percent advantage in favor of Kindle.

What Amazon doesn't say is this:  Amazon is not 100 percent of the total book market, they REALLY push the Kindle on their site and elsewhere, and the majority of ebooks sold are priced a lot cheaper than print books.  In some cases, Kindle ebooks are actually sold at a loss.  With that being the case, print books remain more profitable than ebooks overall.

So, are printed paper books dead?  I think the real, true answer is "Not right now, and not anytime soon."  One day, printed paper books might follow the path of vinyl record albums:  not as many people use them anymore, but they still use them.  For right now, the printed paper book is still holding its own, and I think it will be around for as long as people prefer to collect an actual physical copy of a paper book that they can hold in their hands and discover in their favorite bookstore. 
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