The media has been sounding the death knell of Publishing for years now, but a new study has sparked a resurgence of hope. Publisher’s Weekly reported that BookStats, a joint statistical venture involving the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, found publishing revenues up across the board since 2008. The study showed that total book publishing revenues rose 5.6 % from 2008 to 2010, a significant feat for an already struggling industry during a huge economic recession.
The BookStats report is based on responses gleaned across an 18 month period from 1,963 publishers, including to top six major trade publishers. The study points to e-books as the driving force behind revenue spikes. BookStats shows that trade e-book revenues rose 1,274.1% to $878 million dollars between 2008 and 2010. E-book sales have been increasing exponentially since their inception (see below) and are thought to be making up for declining print sales. Overall trade sector revenues rose .2 percent from 2008 to 2009 but unexpectedly picked up speed in 2009, rising a full 5.4% by 2010.
While this information seems promising, reports have not revealed much information on unit sales, an oversight which limits the implications of the BookStats data. For example, are revenues up because prices have risen? Or are publishers actually selling more books? A brief blurb on the BookStats site mentions that unit sales were indeed up by 4.1% between 2008 and 2010. The revenue increase of 5.6% outweighs the unit sales increase, suggesting that averages unit prices may have risen slightly over those two years.
Another relevant question to ask is are people reading more or are more people reading? Studies have found that e-readers are actually having a positive impact on the amount of time people spend reading. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that people with e-readers are not only keeping pace with former reading habits, but are reading even more than they used to. Of 1,200 people surveyed, about 40% said they read more than before and only 2% claimed to read less. Amazon also revealed that its Kindle buyers purchased, on average, 3.3 times the number of books than they did before owning the e-reader.
E-books seem to be having a positive effect on publishing revenues and maintaining readership, but can long form content survive the short form Internet age? Clive Thompson of Wired magazine thinks so. His hypothesis is that the barrage of short form content has, in fact, spurred more long-form writing. Thompson believes that people separate chatter from deeper thoughts and choose their mediums accordingly. Texts and tweets are therefore reserved for surface level comments and observations while blogs have been increasing in length as they’ve become the platform for deeper meditation. Journals, magazines, and newspaper editors once had control over the long-form content that was available to the public. Today, the web has allowed the average Joe to expound and share his thoughts to his heart’s desire.
Apparently, people aren’t turned off by this wordier form of writing. According to Thompson, the most popular blog posts on the web average about 1,600 words. As web writers become more ambitious, readers’ interest in and familiarity with more substantial content is piqued--but the hyper-stimulating Internet environment isn’t necessarily ideal for internalizing large quantities of information. Re-enter the book...specifically the e-book. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that the Kindle was designed to promote interest in reading long form content by drawing the reader into the experience.
"Everything is about getting the device to disappear so that you can enter the author's world. A nightmare scenario for me would be if this device would ever beep at me while I'm reading."
Perhaps the e-book owes some of its popularity to the tech-addict’s secret desire to escape from the ads, headlines, tweets, text messages. And even for those who are apathetic to technology, the e-reader is still a nifty way to have all your books with you at once!
Just like there are many different forms of content there are many different forms of reading. There are some fabulous blogs out there (ahem, Fueled!), but reading a blog cannot compare to the experience of reading a novel, just like watching a television show cannot compare with a visit to the theatre. Yet people still read blogs and novels, watch television, and go to the theatre--it’s not generally an either/or scenario. Web reading is a certain kind of reading that emphasizes surface engagement. Topics are often news related, content is shareable, and there is always space for comment and debate. Book reading is more introspective--without the distraction of ads, links, or extraneous comments, one develops a far more personal relationship with the text. This is an experience that is as desirable and essential as it has been for hundreds of years and in an increasingly hyper-stimulating world, perhaps book reading, be it in digital or print form, will become even more attractive.