Strong Print, Slow E-Book Sales Make Headlines

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Following the September 22 New York Times article “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” other media outlets at the national and local levels, as well as internationally, have been sharing the news that print books remain a favorite for readers and that physical bookstores are benefitting.

E-book sales have sharply slowed, wrote the Times, despite analysts’ predictions that e-books would overtake print by this year. For the first five months of 2015, e-book sales fell by 10 percent, according to statistics from the Association of American Publishers. Citing the closing of e-book subscription services and publishers’ growing warehouses, the Times noted “there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper.” And this, it observed, “has provided a lift to many booksellers.”

Arsen Kashkashian of Colorado’s Boulder Book Store agreed, telling the Times: “We’ve seen people coming back. They were reading more on their Kindle and now they’re not, or they’re reading both ways.”

Several publishers have also taken steps to give booksellers avenues to get books into their stores faster than ever; Penguin Random House’s rapid replenishment program offers booksellers two-day guaranteed delivery during the busy holiday season.

Markus Dohle, the CEO of Penguin Random House, commented, “People talked about the demise of physical books as if it was only a matter of time, but even 50 to 100 years from now, print will be a big chunk of our business.”

Following the Times piece, Southern California Public Radio’s AirTalk broadcast an interview featuring Lorraine Shanley, president of the consulting firm Market Partners International, and Len Vlahos, a 30-year book industry veteran, who recently left his position as executive director of the Book Industry Study Group to join the management team of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store, where he and Kristin Gilligan, his wife, will become majority owners in 2017.

“It caught everyone by surprise when the e-book started to plateau in 2012 and that that plateau has really sort of continued and started to dip,” said Vlahos. “The e-book market in the United States is actually maturing and the behavior of consumers is becoming a lot more predictable. Print and e- are coexisting kind of the way theatrical release film and DVD or streaming video are coexisting.”

“With all of the data I’ve seen over the years, I’m doubling down on brick-and-mortar and on the longevity of the book. There’s been a resurgence in bookstores,” said Vlahos.

Four months after opening Inkwood Books in Haddonfield, New Jersey, owner Julie Beddingfield told the Philadelphia Inquirer that business is better than she had anticipated. “People keep asking me how I’m going to compete with Amazon,” Beddingfield said. “But knowing your community and hosting events? You can’t get that from an algorithm.”

Highlighting the growing number of independent, brick-and-mortar bookstores, the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted ABA CEO Oren Teicher, who said, “People spend so many hours in front of computer screens. There’s a yearning to be in a physical place, talking to people, discovering books you didn’t know about.”

Among other media outlets that recently shared the news about the drop in e-book sales and the resurgence of print are: